EMA hosts tabletop meeting

West Point Police Captain Virginia Rich talks with Torrey Williams, director of West Point Clay County Emergency Management Agency at a tabletop exercise at City Hall Wednesday morning.
Staff Writer

Be prepared is not just a good motto for the Scouts, but for everyone in case of an emergency. Torrey Williams director of West Point Clay County Emergency Management Agency, met with members of the West Point Police Department, Clay County Sheriff's Department, West Point Fire Department, 911 Dispatch, city leaders and agencies involved in public safety, for a tabletop exercise at City Hall Wednesday morning.

Williams put forth a scenario with a train that has a damaged boxcar releasing hazardous materials into the air. He informed those present on what to do should such an emergency situation arise.

"For those who are not in close proximately to the leak, we stress 'Shelter in Place,’” Williams said. "immediately close and place towels around windows, keeping airborne chemicals from entering homes and businesses. Shut off all air conditioning units, and anything that is pulling outside air, inside."

During the sweltering Mississippi summers, this is not a comfortable thing to do, but the contaminated air needs to be kept out of the building.

"Sometimes if there is a good wind, the problem can be solved quickly," Williams said. "But if the problem is larger and hard to contain, there needs to be an evacuation plan in place."

But for a small scale accident, a "Code Red" would be issued to get the word out that there is a problem that could be hazardous.

"We would issue a code red, which would send out a message for people to Shelter in Place," Williams said. "There are several nursing homes in this area, do you already know what to do?"

Barry Morris, head of maintenance at Dugan Memorial Home, said they would react similarly to when there are tornadoes in the area.

"We bring all the residents into the hall, the same as we do when we hear the tornado sirens," Morris said. "But we will need to shut down the air conditioning system and block the windows. Then we wait for the 'all clear.’”

When asked what the staff at Dugan would do if family members came to take their loved one, Morris said they would tell the person they can’t allow the resident to leave, but would urge the family member to come inside and stay with their loved one until the threat was over.

West Point Fire Chief Ken Wilbourne said in the case of a hazardous gas or chemical spill, on the railroad, the fire department would be on the scene to spray and contain the vapors if at all possible. There would also be help available from surrounding communities if needed.

"We would put out a phone alert to cell phones," Williams said. "We would have the radio and television stations give information on what to do to shelter in place. We would give as much information as possible to keep everyone safe."

Hospitals would have to be alerted to expect an influx of patients, symptoms to look for that would be caused by the inhaling the hazardous vapors.

In the event of a larger emergency, where evacuation was called for, Williams said there would be a call for specialized teams and there will need to be a unified command.

"There would need to be a command post set up in a location away from the spill," Williams said. "There would need to be a spokesperson from each department. There will need to be someone in charge until Hazmat arrives."

There is much to think about in case of an emergency, there is a hospital that may need to be evacuated, three skilled nursing facilities filled with elderly people, a county jail with inmates. There would need to be traffic control to keep vehicles moving in timely fashion.
"We need to be proactive, rather than reactive," Williams said. "We can keep our city safer by knowing what to do in case of an emergency."