11 emergency agencies participate in Henry exercise

Henry County officials filled a room at the county's Emergency Management Agency and 911 Center, to learn firsthand, how to handle a hazardous-material situation in case of an emergency.

The training came during a regional drill that included first-responder personnel from the counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, Fayette, Rockdale, Cherokee and Henry, along with Georgia Emergency Management Agency officials.

The Metro Atlanta Urban Area Security Initiative's (USASI) functional exercise is designed to establish a learning environment for players to exercise the Atlanta Regional Evacuation Coordination Plan, and supporting plans and procedures for responding to a train derailment.

In the training exercise, a train jumped the tracks at 5:30 a.m., in Atlanta, carrying a chlorine gas which spilled and caused a plume of gas to fill the air near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and Lakewood Road.

"The tanker itself has emptied and Gov. Deal has declared a state of emergency," said Don Ash, director of Henry County Emergency Management Communications. Ash constantly briefed the officials with updates during the exercise. He told them when the drill moved from Level One to Level Two. He stayed in contact with Emergency Management agency officials, and used conference calls to plot responses to the train derailment.

Nearly 55, 000 people needed evacuation from the targeted area, according to the scenario. Some 1,000 needed transportation from the south end of the city, from the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) College Park train station, to Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS), by bus. The caravan of buses would be escorted by Henry County police to the speedway.

Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols advised the conversion of Georgia Highway 20 to only southbound lanes to maintain traffic flow. "It will be similar to what we do during race weekend at AMS," said Nichols.

Christopher Gonyar, an Emergency Management Specialist for Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), said moving from various levels of the drill indicate different aspects of the regional drill. "Part of level one is to pull in resources that will allow for them to request additional resources, which basically means that the event will move from a local event to a regional event," said Gonyar.

Henry officials were scheduled to house the people arriving to the county in shelters, located inside AMS' infield garages. "We will probably have to utilize other areas of the AMS property," said Ash.

At the conclusion of the multi-jurisdictional drill, officials would meet with SAIC evaluators for what Ash described as a "Hot Wash." In the segment, officials decide what was effective, what needed to be changed, said Ash.

"Today was an example of how prepared Henry County is in the event of an accident of this magnitude," said Henry County Communications Director Julie Hoover-Ernst. "We have practiced and rehearsed a number of scenarios in similar exercises, which demonstrated a high level of preparedness among our public safety agencies –– and citizens should be reassured by that."