Emergency responders to get disaster training

Fire trucks, ambulances and Hazmat and the U.S. Army vehicles will converge at an undisclosed location in south Augusta this weekend. It might look bad, but it's not a real disaster.

The Army Reserve is conducting training that will simulate an attack, accident or natural disaster in which civilians are contaminated. Army Reservists will be called to the scene to evaluate whether the "contamination" is chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear; practice using decontamination units and treat mock casualties.

It's a way for reservists to practice helping community first responders in case of a disaster so large it overwhelms local resources, said Army public information officer Lt. Col. Jan Northstar.

"We have different communication systems, different chains of command and different ways of coordinating," Northstar said. "This helps us better determine the things we might need to modify in order to work in a civilian capacity."

Examples of the real-life possibilities aren't hard to find. In 2005, a train wreck in Graniteville released chlorine, sending more than 250 people to hospitals. The nuclear radiation leaks during the Japan earthquakes show even a natural disaster can create contamination.

The contamination exercise, called Red Dragon, was first conducted in 2000. It is coordinated by the 415th Chemical Brigade, the largest Army asset for responding to chemical contamination.

Last year, 2,700 soldiers participated. This year exercises will take place in several communities in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Reach Carole Hawkins at (706) 823-3341, or carole.hawkins@augustachronicle.com.