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Disaster drill simulates rail accident
A volunteer is decontaminated Monday during a disaster drill simulation at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. - photo by Andrew Akers

A multiagency disaster drill took place Monday at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

The drill simulated a railway accident that released adipic acid, a commonly transported toxic substance used in the manufacture of nylon, that resulted in the contamination of approximately 30 people.

“This drill allows us to exercise response efforts and to identify the areas that we can improve upon,” said Brandin DiBlasi, training coordinator of Emergency Preparedness for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“We work closely with local health care entities to improve our interagency communications and coordination,” she said.

The drill included employees of many agencies including the Hall County Fire Department, Gainesville Police and Fire departments, Georgia Emergency Medical Services and Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to Mike Raderstorf, director of Security Services and Emergency Preparedness for the medical center.

Volunteers from the medical center’s high school transition program Project Search as well as children of hospital employees played the parts of victims, said program instructor Colleen Pirkle.

“Project Search started helping with the drills because we wanted to immerse our students in the business even more,” Pirkle said.

Some acted the part of victims who were present at the accident and received immediate decontamination while others represented locals who transported themselves to the emergency room.

Each victim received at least two levels of decontamination that included being hosed off with fire hoses and then showered in a hospital decontamination room.

“I think it is a great thing to be involved in,” said volunteer Kierston Hilderhoff. “The drill helps us and everyone involved to be more prepared for the future.”

While this was just a simulation, the possibility of a real disaster is always present.

Graniteville, S.C., had a major railway accident in 2005 that resulted in the release of chlorine gas. The disaster killed nine people, hospitalized 75 due to respiratory difficulties, displaced 5,400 in the evacuation zone for several days and cost more than $6.9 million in damages, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The potential for accident is always there,” said Hall County Fire Marshall Scott Cagle. “Some people would be surprised what kind of chemicals are transported through the railways.

“Hopefully this type of scenario never happens, but training for disasters is paramount to our job,” he said.

The Northeast Georgia Medical Center conducts disaster drills every six months.

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