Giving Thanks for a Prepared Cordova

More than 100 people volunteer for disaster scene exercise

It is Thanksgiving weekend and Cordovans have much to be thankful for with regards to emergency preparation.

Cordovans have a city council with the foresight to initiate the updating of the Emergency Operations Plan.  The city manager, mayor, and incident management team, consisting of the police chief, fire marshal, public works director, city planner and assistant planner, city finance director, human resources/grants, director of parks and recreation, superintendent of facilities, and the information services director, who are willing to train and works towards the goal.

Cordovans have a team of almost 40 key stakeholders, many of whom have been meeting monthly, to discuss the potential issues with regards to disasters. Cordovans have a fire department, a police department, a state trooper post, a hospital, and a clinic who have trained rigorously. Cordova has the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management supporting our efforts, and Cordova has enthusiastic citizens that choose to participate.

Clear evidence of that is the recent full-scale exercise conducted this fall at Mudhole Smith airport.

Every three years the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has a mandatory requirement to test their readiness, their skill, and their Emergency Operations Plan responding to a major airline emergency, so every three years there is a flurry of activity, usually in the fall, as coordinating agencies plan and execute a major “emergency”.

This year was interesting because, as locals began to contemplate what the scenario would be, the fire department was contacted by Robert Grimes of the Idaho National Guard, 101st Civil Support Team and they wanted to join Cordova for an exercise. Civil Support Team personnel excel in managing Weapons of Mass Destruction, so it seemed reasonable to combine the two exercises, but how to combine an airline emergency scenario with a WMD scenario?

It is really quite simple. Just mix musicians with terrorists with the Make a Wish Foundation.

The scenario was written by Andrew von Ehrenkrook, president of Fox’s Den, a company that has provided technical chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense training to military, law enforcement and government clients since 2010. They combine scientific realism with tactical competencies to craft unique experiences. They were hired by the National Guard to “create” this particular exercise experience.

The scenario went something like this:  THIS IS AN EXERCISE ONLY!

  Singer/songwriter John Legend is flying to Anchorage on an Alaskan 737-400F with his audio tech and film crew to do a live concert for the natives/Eskimos.  Also aboard are numerous families from the Make a Wish Foundation, thrilled to be backstage at such an event. This event will officially end his “Behind the LP” tour for his fifth album “Darkness and Light.”  He will also shoot a music video in the Aleutian Islands aimed at healing the rift between conflicting civilizations – we’re so close yet so far apart…why can’t we come together motif – aimed at North Korea specifically and China and Russia tangentially. Unfortunately, Kyle R Schmidt, a militant white supremacist, took offense at Legend’s latest music video entitled “Surefire” which highlights the love of an interracial couple.  A captain in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and a self-proclaimed Phineas Priest, Schmidt vows to make an example of Legend. He makes a cyanide gas-generating device and hides it one of the pallets of equipment. The device goes off and the plane puts down, emergency landing at Mudhole Smith airport. Signs and symptoms identified by Civil Support Team, when they finally arrive, as likely cyanide. 50 patients on board, 25 already dead.

Cordova DOT, the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department, Cordova Dispatch, the Cordova Police Department, the state troopers, the Idaho 101st CST, Cordova Community Medical Center, Ilanka Community Health Center and Alaska Airlines must now all collectively manage the situation, without letting anyone else become contaminated by the cyanide.

It was the job of the responders to calmly restore some form of organization in the chaos.

No one was given any of the details outlined in the scenario.

They just had to respond to an emergency landing at the airport. The victims, volunteers from the community, kept yelling and crying for the entire exercise. They tried to escape from the scene of the accident, panicked, and uncontrollable.

Police and troopers had to try to restore some order and create a safety perimeter.  DOT, the fire department, and the Idaho team had to determine how to respond safely and how to decontaminate victims, with streams of water.

Dispatch transported mobile equipment in the communications trailer to support communications on the scene at the airport. The CST had to go into the scene in big alien-looking suits, to find out what the killing compound was. The hospital, with assistance from clinic personnel, had victims leaving the scene and randomly showing up at their door, fully contaminated.

The medics on scene had to somehow transport the 25 live decontaminated victims to the hospital in a reasonable timeframe. Alaska Airlines helped in that regard, transporting patients with their luggage carts! Every agency did a small important part.

All in all, there were about 115-plus enthusiastic Cordovans giving up their Saturday to help our town learn how to help Cordova Be Prepared.

Yes. We can, indeed, be thankful for that.