Area agencies to host full-scale hazmat exercise on Oct. 18

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Sierra Vista Fire & Medical Services will team up with agencies and hospitals from throughout the region to conduct a full-scale hazmat exercise beginning at 8 a.m. in the Mall at Sierra Vista on Wednesday, Oct. 18

The simulation will begin inside a theater prior to the mall’s operating hours. It will involve an actor throwing handfuls of white powder onto fellow moviegoers, who are all players in the exercise, before running out of an emergency exit. The exercise will then test the capabilities of mall security, area hazardous materials teams, and hospitals to coordinate an effective response.

“The ability to simulate this type of incident in a real world environment with many of our partner agencies involved is invaluable,” Sierra Vista Fire Chief Ron York says. “Identifying ways to improve our response now could help save lives later.”

The exercise will test containment, decontamination, and evidence gathering procedures conducted on scene, while also a simulating a surge of patients to five area hospitals. The hospitals will be able to test their own capabilities to handle a sudden influx of patients who have potentially been exposed to a hazardous material.

“Performing a full-scale exercise with regional participation gives us a great opportunity to get comfortable working together when it’s not a real emergency,” Cochise County Emergency Services Manager Norm Sturm says. “Aside from identifying gaps in procedures, this exercise will build relationships that can help facilitate a seamless crisis response across agencies.”

Planning for this exercise has been underway since February and a tabletop exercise was conducted in July as part of the preparation.

Be advised

Members of the public may witness an emergency response to the Mall at Sierra Vista on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at about 8 a.m. This is part of the exercise and there is no cause for concern.

Personnel, observers, and actors will be on scene at the mall starting at about 7 a.m. Actors will also be reporting to area hospitals to simulate a patient surge following the start of the exercise at 8 a.m. The exercise will conclude at noon.

Participating agencies

The following agencies are sponsoring the exercise: Cochise County Emergency Services, Southern Arizona Health Care Coalition, Sierra Vista Fire & Medical Services, Fry Fire District, Douglas Fire Department, The Mall at Sierra Vista, and Cochise County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service.

Other participating agencies include: Fort Huachuca Fire Department, Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, Sierra Vista Police Department, Canyon Vista Medical Center, Benson Hospital, Copper Queen Community Hospital, Northern Cochise Community Hospital, and Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center.

For more information about the exercise, or to coordinate media access during the exercise, contact Cochise County Emergency Manager Norm Sturm at (520) 432-9220 or nsturm@nullcochise.az.gov.