Preparing for the ‘real deal’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2005

WINDSOR – With several law enforcement vehicles in hot pursuit, a white van entered the parking lot of the old Wrangler plant at a high rate of speed here Saturday morning.

On its heels was a tan automobile – it’s driver, also being chased by Bertie County authorities, tearing across the parking lot in a different direction.

Suddenly, an explosion occurred – instantly killing the driver of the van and sending a grayish plume of smoke into the cool morning air. Gunshots rang out. Screams of agony were heard.

In the wake of this activity, innocent victims lay injured, some suffering from critical burns and broken limbs. A Bertie County Sheriff’s Deputy clutched at her abdomen, the victim of a gunshot wound.

Moments later, a seemingly endless string of emergency responders – fire and rescue units along with the NC Hazardous Materials Response Team – answered the call for assistance.

Two triage stations were set-up where medical teams immediately accessed the extent of the injuries and quickly began treatment. The most seriously injured were rushed to Bertie Memorial Hospital from where they were able to receive more extensive medical assistance.

The good news in this Saturday morning incident was none of it was real. It was a mock disaster drill, aimed at helping local emergency responders better understand what could happen during a real terrorist attack.

The exercise was sponsored by Bertie Memorial Hospital, Bertie County Emergency Management and Martin Community College (MCC). Funds to carry out the drill came from a United States Department of Homeland Security grant.

Rickey Freeman, Director of Bertie Emergency Management, said he was extremely pleased with the outcome of the training exercise.

&uot;Proper training is the key for knowing how to react in situations such as this,&uot; Freeman noted. &uot;We hope this never happens in Bertie County, or anywhere else in the United States, but if it does, the citizens of Bertie County can rest assured that we are prepared.&uot;

Even though the probability of a terrorist attack is low in Bertie County, the area is within comfortable driving distance of high-density population in Virginia and military sites there and in North Carolina. The county has major thoroughfares that could be used as a route to those places.

The hypothetical scenario that unfolded on Saturday began with information received by local law enforcement that a terrorist cell is planning to release deadly chemicals into the air at Fort Bragg and a description is given of the vehicles to be used. A Bertie County deputy spots the vehicles traveling on U.S. 13 near Powellsville and reports it to the dispatcher at the Sheriff’s Office. When the deputy tries to stop the van, the driver – followed by an accomplice in a car – goes onto the parking lot of the old Wrangler plant on County Farm Road.

Those injured in the mock drill were volunteers, acting as plant employees. They carried out their acting skills well, laying perfectly still as emergency responders – many of which were students enrolled in the EMT program at Martin Community College – took vital signs, applied gauze to the &uot;wounds,&uot; fastened neck braces and isolated &uot;broken limbs&uot; with splints.

&uot;Bertie County needed this drill, as did we,&uot; said Lee Black, Instructional Coordinator for Fire-Rescue-EMS at MCC.

He continued, &uot;It made sense for us all to come together and conduct one drill. The end result is invaluable training we can use in the event of an actual emergency.&uot;

Black added that each of the 24 MCC students enrolled in the EMT program benefited from the training. The students were observed and evaluated by a certified EMT.

Meanwhile, Freeman said he would conduct a debriefing sometimes this week among those taking part in the training exercise. Those emergency responders included the Bertie Sheriff’s Office, Windsor Police, NC Highway Patrol, Bertie Rescue, Aulander Rescue, Windsor Fire Dept., Merry Hill-Midway Fire Dept., Askewville Fire Dept., Coastal Medical, Bertie Ambulance Service, Mediport, EastCare (ground service), White Oak Medical, Roanoke Medical and Midway Medical.