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Utah County officials prepare for disaster with mock terrorism incident

SHARE Utah County officials prepare for disaster with mock terrorism incident

PROVO — Utah County officials hope a mock biological terrorism incident will help them be ready when real disaster strikes.

On Tuesday, the Utah County Health Department launched a full-scale drill, starting at BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium and spreading to medical centers across the county. Volunteer victims were taken from the stadium and decontaminated by workers in hazmat suits before being transported to various hospitals for treatment.

"(The stadium) isn't a prime target, but it's one of the more prime targets in Utah County," said Lance Madigan, Utah County Health Department spokesman. "Assuming it's a full stadium with 40,000 to 60,000 people, how would you deal with that?"

Volunteers in the stadium acted as victims of a biological terrorist attack. In a real incident, the attack could be food borne, water borne or more likely aerosolized and inhaled, Madigan said.

Because officials during Tuesday's drill weren't sure what the source was, victims were treated for everything.

"Some (contaminants) you can just throw in the washing machine and you're good," Madigan said, noting that others require extensive decontamination.

Victims were marched from the stadium to the south parking lot and sent through a decontamination trailer. After being hosed down with soap and water and changing their clothes, the victims were bused to nearby medical centers for treatment.

Madigan said other victims were staged at hospitals without coming on the buses from the stadium because at a real event, many people would drive themselves to the hospital. Health professionals treated roughly 100 victims for the drill.

"The drill is about interagency aspects, too," Madigan said.

In addition to the county health department, the Utah Transit Authority, Provo police and fire, the National Guard, the Red Cross and several other agencies responded in some capacity.

"At an event this size, we see what our partners can do, what the hospitals can do, what we can achieve and what's realistic," he said.

Overall, Madigan and others involved said they felt the drill went well and hopefully will give them a few ideas for improvement.

"As much as we can, we want to preplan so our response can be better and faster next time," he said.

e-mail: ashaha@desnews.com