COLUMBIA — The lawn outside the Office of Animal Resources was scattered with giant plastic barrels and oil drums on Thursday morning. The drums were empty. They were there only for effect.
On Thursday, emergency response teams from the Columbia Fire Department, personnel from the Boone County Fire Protection District and MU police conducted an emergency response exercise near MU's Animal Sciences Research Center.
The exercise simulated a severe weather event that had affected a chemical recycling warehouse building, said Chad Pfister, project specialist with MU's Administrative Services.
In the exercise, fire crews donned hazardous material suits and National Guardsmen set up decontamination showers.
"This gives local agencies an opportunity to collaborate and prepare a response for any type of event that may occur," Pfister said.
The Columbia Police Department did not participate in the exercise.
"If this was a real event, we would obviously have help from the police department," Pfister said.
He said that drills of this nature happen in Columbia on a semi-regular basis of every 12 to 18 months. He estimated the number of participants at about100.
Terry Cassil, emergency services division chief and HAZMAT branch officer of the Columbia Fire Department, estimated the cost of the exercise between $5,000 to $10,000 for the Fire Department alone.
"We've got overtime personnel working here, cost of equipment and something is always broken during this," he said, before pointing out a roller system used to decontaminate victims who are unable to walk through a shower; the system itself cost $9,000.
"Regardless of cost, the value is so much higher," said Steven Sapp, Columbia Fire Department battalion chief as he watched members of the HAZMAT Division simulate a rescue.
"It helps us prepare as a community, not just as a local agency," MU spokesman Christian Basi said. "An exercise that involves multiple agencies is important because it helps those agencies establish what their communication and coordination strengths and weaknesses are."
After the exercise , the agencies will evaluate what went well and what areas need improvement. The exercise was also observed by members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is made up of Columbia businesses that may store large quantities of chemicals on-site .
"LEPC members are looking at it from the perspective of what could happen at their own facilities," Sapp said. "But they are also a resource for us in case we have any questions about chemicals."
While Sapp said the event was planned to be "as close as we can get" to a real chemical event, participants were asked to use their imaginations.
The simulated event was supposed to be triggered by severe weather, but this morning, the sun was shining and the sky was clear.
"In a real situation, it could still be pouring rain," Sapp said.