CLOVIS, New Mexico -- Clovis New Mexico has become the latest community in Region VI to complete a HAZMAT exercise under FEMA's Comprehensive HAZMAT Emergency Response-Capability Assessment Program (CHER-CAP). While the exercise itself was held on September 16, months of planning and training took place involving many different response agencies. Cannon Air Force Base, the Sheriff's departments of Curry and Roosevelt Counties, Emergency Response Teams from Clovis and Portales, the local Red Cross Chapter and numerous private industry participants worked in partnership to plan the best offense against a HAZMAT incident. Because of their efforts the responders were able to effectively respond to the exercise scenario, which turned out to be a little more challenging than they may have anticipated.
The exercise scene involved a Cannon Air Force Base bus that collided with a tanker, carrying a hazardous substance, on a railroad track. To compound the situation the incident occurred on a remote two-lane caliche road, making entry, and staging particularly difficult. Not only did they have to contain and control the scene using the Incident Command System (ICS), but mock victims (volunteers from local high schools in Clovis and Portales) were involved. This added the need for medical assistance and increased the chances of contamination.
Hours later when the exercise was complete, participants had a chance to re-group in a "hot wash" which is an initial de-briefing to discuss what was done well during the exercise and what could be improved upon. A final report based on information provided by peer evaluators will be compiled by FEMA and issued at a later date. But for now, all of the participants agreed that the exercise process was a valuable experience. As FEMA Region VI HAZMAT Program Manager Wayne Rickard told the group, "There's no way to have a bad exercise- it's a chance to learn?the whole point is for everyone to respond and have a chance to practice together."
A CHER-CAP exercise is an excellent way to integrate technical hazards into building a disaster resistant community. If you are interested in conducting a CHER-CAP exercise, or to learn more about the program, contact your state Emergency Mangement office.