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Most of the agencies in the central Berkshires were represented.

Pittsfield's group discussing how they'd handle it if it was there.

The state officials all have roles to play in these types of events.

Break out groups each discussed their response before have a full discussion with everyone else.

Area Responders Tested on Emergency Preparedness

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
09:34AM / Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Hinsdale responders were in the hot seat Wednesday because they hosted the training event.

HINSDALE, Mass. — On the more typical emergency responses, the fire or police know their roles and how to handle it.

But what happens when everything goes wrong and multiple agencies are called in?

On Wednesday, area emergency response agencies — including local and state police, fire, Berkshire Medical Center, ambulance, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the sheriff's department and railroad police — all got quizzed on how they would respond.

More than two dozen representatives from the central Berkshire area performed a four-hour tabletop exercise. Given a scenario, with details kept secret until the 8 a.m. exercise, the agencies were asked to work out how they'd handle it.

The mock event began with details that a train was sparking as it cruised into Hinsdale, the town hosting the exercise. Shortly after, the conductor notices it is leaking a fluid. In groups, the agencies were asked to outline their priorities and steps at that point.

Then the scenario develops further and the conductor breaks his leg, bystanders start becoming sick; the fluid is identified as flammable ethanol and it is leaking into a nearby pond.

At that point, media shows up pressing for information, residents are overwhelming the communications center with worrisome calls, the railroad operator wants the tracks reopened, the Department of Environmental Protection wants to prevent more ecological damage, the Board of Health is trying to manage the health aspect, the air needs testing, BMC and ambulance services are getting stretched thin, and residents need to be evacuated from their homes.

With all of that going on, the agency representatives outlined their actions and priorities and, in turn, received more details of the challenges and resources the others have to operate.

From where to establish staging area, how to determine the area for evacuation and get residents out, how to communicate with the public, what roads to close, and integrating the hospital into the loop to receive the patients, the representatives worked through their detailed response plans.

Overall, the focus was to help the county enhance "core capabilities" in responding to major events. The exercise was put on by the Central Berkshire Emergency Planning Committee.

Those participating found it particularly helpful as a networking tool among the agencies, discovering tools and equipment others have to help such a large situation. The exercise also showed those organizations where they would have trouble.


Tags: CBREPC,   emergency preparedness,   

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