HOULTON – A weapons-of-mass-destruction drill held two weeks ago at the Houlton port of entry has received high marks from participants and observers.
More than 100 people from local, county, provincial and federal agencies from the United States and Canada took part in the Aug. 29 drill which simulated a terrorist incident involving nerve gas and explosives.
The drill was the first of its kind involving emergency response agencies from both countries.
“My guys have never been through an exercise as positive as this one,” said Capt. Darryl Lyon, assistant operations officer for the 11th Civil Support-Weapons of Mass Destruction unit of the Maine Army National Guard based in Waterville.
Lyon noted that although members of his unit have trained for two years and conducted drills all over the state and county, the exercise in Houlton marked the first time they had been involved in such an in-depth exercise.
Lyon was among two dozen representatives of agencies that took part in the drill who attended an exercise review Monday at the Houlton Fire Station.
While the review was going on, some of what will eventually be more than $125,000 worth of specialized hazardous material decontamination equipment was being unpacked at the station.
After additional training, the Houlton Fire Department will be one of 16 decontamination strike teams set up across the state.
The objective of last month’s training was to have agencies from multiple organizations from both countries integrate their hazardous materials training and enhance cross-border assistance in those emergencies.
“We were quite pleased with the way these guys came together,” Michael Grant, state exercise coordinator for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said. “That’s what contributed to the success of this operation.”
In addition, the drill was planned to help those who respond first to hazmat incidents take the extra time needed to assure that there wouldn’t be more casualties.
“Based on review, it didn’t appear that would have happened” had this been an actual attack, Grant said.
There were some glitches, including a lack of common radio frequencies, and some of the simulated nerve gas was left unattended after removal.
The decontamination equipment being supplied free to Houlton is part of a national effort to better prepare states to deal with hazmat incidents, including those that might involve terrorist activity.
Eventually, there will be eight regional response teams across Maine and 16 strike teams to support each of those teams.
In Aroostook County, the Presque Isle Fire Department also will serve as a strike team. Presque Isle and Houlton would support the Madawaska Fire Department Hazardous Materials Response Team in an actual incident.
Strike team equipment will include a decontamination shower tent, generator and a water heater. Other equipment will include chemical and radiation detectors and protective suits for 20 people.
Grant said each team also would get a 24-foot trailer in which to haul the equipment.