By Maegan Mitchell
EKU was one of many organizations to participate in safety exercises led by the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), a federal program set in place for communities near the stockpiles on Wednesday, September 20. The drill simulated a potential chemical leak at the depot and helps residents within Madison County to be better prepared in case of an emergency.
The Bluegrass Army Depot is located within Madison County and is the reason for the city-wide drill. As one of two remaining storage facilities in the country that stockpile antiquated chemical weapons, Bluegrass Army Depot houses many chemicals set to be destroyed in the coming years.
Until the time comes for the chemicals to be disposed of properly, the city of Richmond and CSEPP continue to prepare for the event of a leak. However, Bryan Makinen, executive director of Public Safety and Risk Management, said the occurrence is “unlikely.”
Since the government ordered that all chemical weapons be demilitarized, nine sites around the country were selected to hold the entirety of the military’s chemical arsenal until it was destroyed, said Gary Folckemer, director of emergency management and security. Seven of the nine stockpiles have completed the demilitarization, leaving Bluegrass Army Depot and the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Pueblo, Colorado as the only active sites.
Each community has a branch of the CSEPP in place to prepare citizens for the possibility of chemical leaks that will remain active until the last of the chemicals is destroyed. For Bluegrass Army Depot, the rest of the chemicals are set to be demilitarized by 2023.
Currently, the Depot houses a blister agent which is also known as mustard gas, and two different nerve agents, GB (or Sarin) and VX. The chemicals are from as far back as World War I, when chemical weapons were still legal means of combat in war.
Folckemer said part of CSEPP’s preparedness program includes a yearly drill which takes place every third Wednesday in September.
On this day, other schools in the area practice the shelter in place exercises, while on the EKU Richmond campus, the crises management team runs through a scenario-based drill, known as a “tabletop exercise” said Folckemer. For the last few drills, volunteers have been invited to join the exercise and take shelter in one of the indicated buildings, but Folckemer said action is being taken to produce a larger drill for the spring semester.
Richmond is sectioned into zones so if a leak were to occur, it would be easier to illustrate to the public where the cloud of chemicals or the “plume” was headed, Folckemer said.
“Because [EKU] has property that lies in four different zones, we have an automatic default protective action decision to shelter in place,” Folckemer said.
During this time, the Army sends the blanket notice containing minimal details until the actual trajectory of the plume is identified. From there, more detailed notices are sent out and the applicable zones can respond accordingly.
Prompts are sent out through the city speakers and through the RAVe system alerts, which are sent to student emails, and can also be received by text and voice messaging if the recipient opts-in, Folckemer said. Once a student receives the alert, they are advised to shelter in place at any of the designated buildings: Alumni Coliseum, Combs, Model Gym, Perkins, Thompson Hall, University Building, and Whitlock.
“We encourage our EKU community to do three things,” Makinen said. “First and foremost, be prepared.”
Makinen said he suggests going to emergency.eku.edu and becoming familiar with the action plans laid out on the site.
“The second thing is to sign up for RAVe,” Makinen said. “It’s the singular method by which we’re going to communicate life-safety information in a timely manner so that everyone can take protective action and be well informed for whatever’s going on. The third thing we encourage is to sign up for Live Safe.”
Live Safe is a safety app designed to call or text 911 from the app and can also give the authorities information about location. More information about signing up for Live Safe can be found at getrave.com/login/eku.
Additionally, both Makinen and Folckemer are open to give presentations or more information regarding the chemical stockpiles to groups or individuals interested, and can be reached through their EKU emails at Bryan.Makinen@eku.edu and Gary.Folckemer@eku.edu.