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What a Disaster

by Brian Orr

WALSENBURG- How was your Friday morning, August 8?  Probably better than what was planned for by Emergency Services.

    Agency heads from all of Huerfano County’s various public agencies attended a tabletop disaster drill last Friday, where the proposed scenario was on Friday at 9:04 am, that a train struck a car in downtown Walsenburg, then derailed and spilled the contents of one of it’s tanks, sulfuric acid.  Bummer morning.

    This nightmare scenario was dreamed up by Larry Blessman of the Ambulance Department and Diego Bobian, Emergency Manager for Huerfano County.

    Imagining that this occured, people from the City of Walsenburg, Huerfano County, the Colorado Department of Transportation, HazMat teams from Pueblo, Emergency Medical Services, the Police and Sheriff’s departments all discussed what would have to happen and in what order.

    According to Captain Kevin Vallejos of the Sheriff’s Department, roads would have to be closed off and people evacuated, including all the inmates from the County jail (they would be bussed out to the Corrections Corporation of America prison east of town.) 

    Depending on if the acid spill is gaseous and wind directions, evacuation points could be set up at the Acorn parking lot north of town, the Community Center south of town, Lathrop park west of town or at the CCA parking lot east of town.

    If the wind is blowing out of the west, even Interstate 25 would need to be closed, which is where the Department of Transportation would come in.  City Streets and Alley crews would close or divert roads in Walsenburg, while authorities went house-to-house evacuating people away from the spill.

    After the initial powerpoint presentation explaining the scenario, the various partipants broke out into smaller groups to discuss what their roles could be. At the end of the exercise, a steering committee composed of the various groups was appointed.

    Walsenburg Councilwoman Edith Flanagin, who attended the exercise, later commented that Walsenburg has a long way to go before being prepared  for a disaster of this magnitude.  “We don’t have any haz-mat suits,” she said afterwards. “We couldn’t send someone into the scene to help people even if we wanted to.  We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

    The table-top exercise will be played out on the City streets some Friday in September, when the disaster will be played out, complete with streets being cordoned off and some evacuations carried out.

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