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    Fort Polk conducts annual exercise to test emergency response

    Fort Polk conducts annual exercise to test emergency response

    Photo By Chuck Cannon | Dr. David Holcombe, medical director/regional administrator, Louisiana Department of...... read more read more

    FORT POLK, LA, UNITED STATES

    05.18.2018

    Story by Chuck Cannon 

    Fort Polk Public Affairs Office

    FORT POLK, La. — “EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE!”
    If you were on South Fort Polk May 16, it’s a good possibility you saw signs proclaiming the above message during your visit.
    Fort Polk held its annual installation-wide exercise, testing the ability of leaders and emergency services personnel to handle a catastrophic event — in this case a biological agent attack — and work with local and state-wide agencies to protect not only those who call Fort Polk home, but also the surrounding communities.
    According to exercise parameters, on May 12, two men driving a white truck with aerosol sprayers gained access through access control point 5 stating they were a part of the vector control efforts for mosquitoes on Fort Polk.
    The vehicle was driven to Perez Field and an aerosol spray was released during a unit event. The two men then drove the vehicle down Bellrichard throwing aerosol canisters in the vicinity of Georgia and Louisiana avenues where the vehicle was abandoned and the two occupants fled into the nearby wood line shouting “Lion Brigade.”
    The vehicle continued to dispense the aerosol until first responders shut down the unit. A search of the area resulted in the apprehension of the two individuals by law enforcement in the vicinity of Texas and Pennsylvania avenues.
    Multiple 911 calls were received from personnel reporting the incident and of individuals suffering coughing and shortness of breath after being exposed to the aerosol at the Perez Field, Bellrichard Avenue and Georgia and Louisiana avenues intersection.
    About 40 people at Perez Field were treated, decontaminated with hoses and released. Another 50 people along the truck-traveled route were treated, decontaminated and released. An unknown number of people self-evacuated without treatment.
    Samples of the spray and canisters were sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta by the Louisiana State Police Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) team for analysis.
    The events of May 16 began at 9 a.m., or 96 hours after the attack occurred. Members of the Fort Polk community reported symptoms of a possible biological agent contamination and began flooding into the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital emergency room.
    BJACH set up a off-site Point of Dispensing (POD) at Fort Polk’s Siegfried Youth Center to screen those who might be affected.
    Capt. April Wilkins was officer in charge of the POD. She said that after screening people who thought they might be affected by the agent, POD staff provided preventive medicines to heads of households for their Family members.
    “The CDC let us know what the agent was and sent us the medicine to combat it,” she said. “If the heads of household said they or their Family members were exhibiting symptoms, we provide them with the medication and let them know, based on their symptoms, if they should seek further treatment at BJACH.”
    Not only were installation organizations tested on how they responded to the event, but also on their interaction with state agencies such as the Louisiana State Police Hazardous Material Division and the Louisiana Department of Health.
    Dr. David Holcombe, medical director/regional administrator, region 6 for Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Public Health, said it’s important military and civilian agencies work together during these type exercises.
    “The success of these disaster preparedness exercises largely depends on effective civilian and military cooperation,” Holcombe said. “I’m here representing public health to offer what assistance we can.”
    Holcombe said there’s recognition from both military and civilian agencies that it is important to continue to exercise and work together.
    “It is a bit of a challenge because while the people in our office are pretty constant, military leaders have a tendency to change regularly, so it’s important to maintain continuity,” Holcolme said during a press conference held during the exercise.
    “The plan is to cultivate relationships because you get better results.”
    Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk agreed that the exercise was more than just a Fort Polk story.
    “It’s an example of how our installation and community partners work together for the protection and safety of Fort Polk and communities from across Louisiana,” Frank told reporters from area newspapers and TV stations.
    Frank said the biological attack exercise allowed participants to refine how they respond to an emergency, and how quickly they can resume normal operations.
    “Previous exercises have tested our response to active shooter, chemical spills, downed aircraft and severe weather,” Frank said.
    “We want to be ready for any contingency — the health and welfare of our communities depend on it.”
    Col. Jarrett Thomas II, Fort Polk garrison commander, extended his thanks to community partners and installation agencies for their work in preparing for the exercise.
    “It’s taken months of planning and our success is dependent on how we work together,” Thomas said. “We’re a sum of all our parts.”
    Thomas said the exercise would help leadership answer questions such as what can we learn from the event, how can it be done better and are there things that can be done differently.
    “All those lessons learned will be compiled to make the next time even more streamlined and efficient,” he said. “That’s how we protect every man, woman and child on Fort Polk and within our communities.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 05.18.2018
    Date Posted: 05.18.2018 09:35
    Story ID: 277494
    Location: FORT POLK, LA, US 

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