ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense recently held its annual full-scale Chemical Accident or Incident Response and Assistance (CAIRA) exercise. These exercises involve not only personnel from the MRICD, but also all Garrison response forces that would respond to an actual emergency. Periodically emergency agencies from the local community participate in the exercise as well.
According to MRICD’s surety officer, Melanie Murrow, the exercises “practice our response so that in the event of a real incident we can expeditiously respond and know what we’re doing.”
Adverse events can include spills of chemical agents outside engineering controls, theft of agent, and personnel exposures. Such an incident triggers a coordinated effort among many different agencies that is focused on helping the injured, mitigating any adverse effects, and protecting against collateral casualties at the incident site, at other Garrison locations, or within the surrounding community.
These events, real or staged, trigger activation of the APG Emergency Operations Center where the APG emergency manager and the Garrison surety officer, as well as representatives from the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic’s Department of Human Resources, the APG police, the APG Public Affairs Office, the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation, the Garrison Environmental and Safety Offices, the Department of Public Works, and APG Logistics report.
Additionally, a Command Post is established as near to the incident as the APG Fire Department determines is safe. Here, those most directly involved in overseeing and directing the response congregate, to include the incident commander, safety personnel from both the Institute and the Garrison, and depending on the type of incident, MRICD’s security personnel. Another important presence at the Command Post is Kirk’s Medical Response Team.
Each year for the full-scale exercise, a scenario mimicking a possible incident is crafted and played out by MRICD personnel. In this year’s scenario, a medical emergency of one employee working with the nerve agent sarin results in the vial of agent coming out of the laboratory hood, falling to the floor, and breaking, thereby exposing the ill employee and a second employee working with him. In the exercise, the employee suffering the medical emergency was represented by a mannequin.
Once the accident occurs, the emergency response begins. At the conclusion of the exercise, a hot wash is conducted during which exercise participants thoroughly discuss and evaluate the conduct of the exercise. Although MRICD’s mission to develop medical countermeasures to chemical warfare agents necessitates the use of chemical agents in its scientists’ research, a true team effort across APG and local response personnel ensures that the mission can be accomplished with the most minimal risk and adverse impact to members of the APG and surrounding communities.