The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) and Madison County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) performed an annual exercise Wednesday, Sept. 19 to prepare EKU students and residents of Madison County for a potential chemical leak situation.
James Yarber, 19, a sophomore homeland security major from Irvine, participated in the drill as part of the emergency management in homeland security program in his department. Yarber oversaw leading the drill in the Combs building, which is one of seven Enhanced Shelter in Place (ESIP) buildings on EKU’s campus.
“This exercise is important because it helps students and faculty on campus to be prepared for a chemical accident at the Blue Grass Army Depot. By doing this exercise, everyone will know where to go on campus and how to react if such an incident did happen,” Yarber said.
Yarber arrived at the Combs building Wednesday at 7:45 a.m. to wait for the test to begin. The drill was scheduled for around 8:30 a.m., with no specific time set to make the exercise more realistic.
When the outdoor alert siren notified Yarber that it was time to start, he went into the closet of the first floor of Combs to activate the ESIP system in the building.
ESIP buildings have sensors placed on the doors, as well as an automated system that shuts down the HVAC system and closes all the dampers in the building in case of a chemical spill or leak.
After activating the ESIP system, Yarber and other volunteers went around to make sure all doors were closed to simulate an actual event and place mock shelter in place signs on the doors. This signaled that the building was locked from people entering from the outside. The drill lasted from 9:17 a.m. to 9:32 a.m.
Kelley McBride, public information officer for Madison County EMA and CSEPP, explained that knowing what to do in an emergency situation is most important, whether it be a chemical emergency or severe weather alert.
“We want people here to understand their plan and know your zone. It’s like going off to college—the more you know and the more you learn, the less scary it is,” McBride said. “We encourage all students or people who work or attend EKU to know their plan, be it on campus or at home.”
Many Madison County residents, including EKU students, are unaware that 50 percent of the nation’s chemical weaponry are housed in their own backyard at the Bluegrass Army Depot. The remaining 50 percent are housed in Pueblo, Colorado. Both stockpiles are the only two remaining communities nation-wide out of nine original stockpile communities.
Decades after large-scale chemical warfare production began in World War I, the United States signed the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 that prohibits the development, production, stockpile or usage of chemical weapons and ordered that all chemical agents should be destroyed.
McBride explained that the Richmond stockpile community, which houses chemical agents such as mustard, sarin and VX gases, will begin its operation in 2019 to neutralize and destroy the chemicals.
The same technology used to systematically dispose of the previous seven stockpile communities will destroy the Kentucky stockpile by an estimated date of 2023.
“These chemicals have been stored safely for a very long time. It is not likely at all that any situation would occur,” McBride said. “This is a unique program because once there is no more stockpile, students will become unaware. But you all will be around chemicals everywhere for the rest of your lives. For any emergency situation ever, it is so important to have a plan.”
On Oct. 24, a full scale exercise will be held at the Madison County Airport from 4 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
To find out your zone and for more information on emergency management planning on campus, visit www.emergency.eku.edu/hazardous-materials-csepp.
This story has been edited for some corrections.