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Pre-quake drill offers timely emergency tips

More than 250 gather in Washington County to practice for major event
by: Dave Nemeyer Members of the state’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force cut through a concrete floor at a vacant Intel plant last Wednesday as part of a statewide training exercise.

Two days before a massive earthquake rocked Japan, emergency responders from across the state were in Washington County for an unprecedented disaster drill that had some eerie parallels to the events that were about to unfold on the Pacific island nation.

More than 250 public safety workers were at a vacant fabrication plant at Intel's Aloha campus early Wednesday to take part in a simulated explosion resulting in a partial building collapse, fire, leaking chemicals and missing workers.

The drill included local law enforcement and fire officials, as well as the three teams from the Office of State Fire Marshal which would be brought in to respond to major emergency: the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, Hazardous Materials Response Teams and an Incident Management Team.

'It was a big deal,' said Forest Grove Fire Marshall Dave Nemeyer, who was helping out with public information during the exercise. 'It was the first time that all three of the state agencies got involved.'

Nemeyer said local jurisdictions regularly work individually with the state agencies but don't have experience working on a coordinated response to a major incident.

'If we had an earthquake like they had in Japan, it would be important for us to know the resources available and how they work together,' he said.

'We can call the hazmat team and we know how that works. But when you involved them with law enforcement or Urban Search and Rescue, it's a little different. We'd rather find problems now than out in the field.'

The drill allowed workers to practice victim search and rescue, rescue techniques, hazard materials detection and leak containment, and structural shoring.

In addition, law enforcement agencies from Washington County and Portland worked to capture a simulated bomber inside the building and defuse hidden simulated explosive devices.