Emergency responders test capabilities

LIHU‘E — The situation depicted during Friday’s Civilian Support Team exercises coordinated by the Hawai‘i Army National Guard could happen here, said Elton Ushio, grant coordinator for Kaua‘i Civil Defense.

The multi-agency scenario had Kaua‘i Police Department officers apprehending a suspect in an area outside the Lihu‘e Airport and near the sewer treatment plant.

“Weapons of mass destruction scenarios on Kaua‘i are highly improbable,” Ushio said. “But hazardous materials situations are very probable.”

Ushio pointed out several incidents over the past few weeks that had the potential of developing into a hazardous materials scene similar to what was being played out under the watchful eye of Hawai‘i Army National Guard monitors.

Upon apprehension of the suspect by KPD officers, investigators discovered a meth lab in the area where the suspect was, triggering the Kaua‘i Fire Department, the state’s health department and American Medical Response into action.

“The CST people have been working with different agencies and departments throughout the week,” Ushio said. “Thursday is the full version where everything comes together. Earlier, the CST people also worked with the Pacific Missile Range Facility and other community responders at different locations, including the Emergency Operating Center at Kaua‘i Civil Defense.”

Ushio said the discovery of the meth lab set into motion the possibility of a powder hazard, which can be fatal to people in the community.

While the fire department set up for recovery of samples from the affected area, a similar scenario utilizing the Kaua‘i Fire Department recruits was unfolding at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where a decontamination unit was set up outside the hospital’s emergency room.

“They cannot bring in contaminated items into the hospital,” Kaua‘i Civil Defense Director Mark Marshall said. “Decontamination must be done outside the hospital before people can be brought inside for treatment.”

Department of Health representatives watched the unfolding scenario with interest, their task being to receive the samples and have it tested.

“We practice so hopefully we will never need to use what we learn,” said assistance chief Ale Quibilan, coordinating the field exercises with assistant chief Mark Begley.

Ushio and Marshall said this year’s exercises demonstrate how the County of Kaua‘i, utilizing the recommendations of previous CST exercises, has become “self-sufficient” in terms of responding to these types of incidents. This year’s exercises called for the decontamination of weapons in addition to personnel and a captured suspect.

Previously, CST vehicles would be brought in for the exercises, supplemented by equipment and apparatus from the county.

Thursday, KPD’s Mobile Incident Command, a versatile communications van from the KFD, as well as its Hazmat vehicle, replaced the CST vehicles’ minimal equipment.

“This is an opportunity for us to roll out the equipment we don’t normally use,” Marshall said. “It is nice to know that we have the facilities to respond to a situation like this, if we have to.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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