A peaceful June morning turned into chaos shortly after 9:00 a.m. at Meridian Naval Air Station. Reports blared over radios that a small explosion had occurred in the Naval Technical Training Center's Supply and Marine School Building.
Almost immediately, students rushed out of the building with symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemical or biological agents. The good news is, there really wasn't a dirty bomb in the building and no one was actually hurt. This was just a test.
"All this is a simulated drill, hoping we can join forces with our Lauderdale County neighbors, military people," said Steve Wade of NAS Environmental Protection. "We appreciate everybody participating because it's a big help to everybody."
Organizers tried to make the drill as real as possible. Base security cordoned off the area within two minutes of the mock blast. Fire trucks responded minutes later. Then hazardous materials teams arrived to begin assessing the situation.
"Once the hazmat teams get on scene, they get geared up in the level gear they need to come into the scene," said Master Sgt. Kris Cokel of NAS Meridian. "They'll treat the victims and transport them to local hospitals by ambulance and helicopter."
Once HAZMAT determined the nature of the danger, sarin gas, an extremely deadly chemical, they began to treat victims through decontamination showers. This has to be done before medical teams can enter the "hot zone", the area immediately surrounding the blast.
"It generally takes 20-30 minutes to get everything before you make entry," said Chuck Martin, assistant training chief.
The weapons of mass destruction exercise gave the base and civilian units from Lauderdale and Kemper Counties a chance to build a cohesive team that can react quickly after a terrorist attack.
This was the first of three steps at developing a first responder plan, the training phase. The intermediate and evaluation stages, where responders get an actual pass or fail grade comes later.
"The drill today is not graded on being a success," said Lt. Christopher Gaskin of NAS Meridian. "This is to formulate procedures and S.O.P's so that we can combat a WMD and make it a success."
And they'll continue working to make sure that if the real thing happens, everyone will be ready.