Each year in May approximately 600 individuals gather to make Pueblo, Colorado, a safer place.
Representatives from federal, state and local fire, police, sheriff and public safety departments, dispatch, medical response, hospitals, and even elementary school children participated in two exercise scenarios during the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) exercise.
“Each of the response agencies serve a role and the exercise gives them a chance to practice for a real life event,” said Carl Ballinger, local CSEPP coordinator. The multiple exercise scenarios take almost a year to plan, he said.
The first scenario involved a simulated chemical incident at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot, and the second was a non-related emergency within Pueblo County requiring the activation of various Emergency Operations Centers, the Pueblo Community Joint Information Center (JIC) and decontamination and treatment facilities.
“Community volunteers are a valuable asset to the JIC and the exercise because they are trained volunteers who can assist with critical tasks during disasters,” said Laurie Kilpatrick, CSEPP public information officer.
“Many volunteers found the experience not only rewarding, but also informative,” Kilpatrick said. “One volunteer described the exercise as ‘interesting and educational’ and another stated that the event was ‘a huge learning experience.’”
The program’s mission is to enhance the ability to protect the health and safety of the public, workforce and environment from the effects of a chemical accident or incident involving the U.S. Army chemical weapons stockpile. The depot, located east of Pueblo, stores 2,611 tons of mustard agent contained within mortars and projectiles.
CSEPP provides local response agencies with radios, decontamination trailers and tents, and other necessary items needed to respond in the unlikely event of a chemical emergency. Ballinger said the first exercise was held in 1992 and has since expanded to include behavioral health and animal services.
“We are ahead of other communities when it comes to emergency response because we have the opportunity to practice,” Ballinger said.