Originally created 01/05/02

Augusta will hold disaster drill



Augusta has everything a terrorist could want: a giant dam upstream from a major city, a nuclear power plant south of town, chemical factories - and some of the continent's deadliest nuclear waste just across the river.

Such potential for mischief and mayhem isn't the sort of thing a chamber of commerce would promote. But this fall, as many as 2,000 people will converge in Augusta for one of the nation's biggest disaster drills.

"The actual exercise is set for September 21 and 22, but there also will be four days of training and other events," said Richmond County Emergency Management Director Dave Dlugolenski.

The event, which focuses on topics ranging from emergency preparedness to counter-terrorism and biological cleanups, is being coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Much of the activity will take place at Fort Gordon, but drills and events likely can be held in Augusta and surrounding areas, he said.

"It will involve things like decontamination, hospital coordination, first responder training, public information, emergency management - lots of topics where people can choose what they want to attend."

Fort Gordon spokesman Henry Holmes said the post will play a supporting role in the exercise, with as many as 300 personnel involved.

"We'll have people from Eisenhower Army Medical Center, directorate of public safety, fire, military police, mainly run our Installation and Operations Center in Darling Hall," Mr. Holmes said.

Even NBC will be here, but not the network. "It's the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical decontamination group," Mr. Holmes said.

The event, named Crisis Management 2002, will be held simultaneously with events in other areas, including Mobile, Ala., Mr. Dlugolenski said.

"We're also looking at conducting a full-scale exercise, perhaps as long as 12 to 14 hours, with live personnel to simulate victims, and having 800 to 900 casualties," he said. "Right now, as far as I know, this would be the largest such exercise in the country."

The conference is large enough that the local Convention & Visitors Bureau will be involved in arranging accommodations for everyone, he said.

Augusta was chosen for the conference in part because of its Local Emergency Planning Committee and the detailed emergency preparedness plans already established here.

Augusta is 22 miles downstream from the 70,000-acre Thurmond Lake, whose dam is on the Savannah River. Georgia Power Company's Vogtle nuclear generating station is a few miles south in Burke County.

Savannah River Site in South Carolina includes underground tanks with 39 million gallons of deadly radioactive waste, and the cluster of chemical plants in Augusta includes PCS Nitrogen, one of the largest makers of ammonium nitrate fertilizer - which also can be made into explosives.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.