Public services collaborate for chemical spill demonstration

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Hazardous Materials specialist John Oldag and technician April Idlett move salvage drums away from Waller Creek after an emergency drill Tuesday morning. The drill was conducted by several UT departments and outside agencies to insure a successful response to a chemical spill.

Photo Credit: Lauren Gerson | Daily Texan Staff

Police tape, fire trucks and people in hazmat suits lined San Jacinto Boulevard on Tuesday morning.

The University partnered with the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals to test how responders would react to a chemical spill into Waller Creek on campus.

Members of UT Police Department, Austin Fire Department, University Operations and city and state representatives made up the approximately 25-member team that drilled for a chemical danger.

Under a tent, members of the media and the AHMP were briefed on the progress of the exercise using a play-by-play style of presentation as the drill progressed. AFD Battalion Chief Palmer Buck narrated the progress of two safety workers as they carefully moved fake chemical barrels from the river bed.

“The main goal was that we want to minimize the time spent here and maximize the shielding to protect as many lives as possible,” Buck said.

The exercise was also intended as a demonstration for the public, said UTPD Lt. James Gabriel.

“This creek runs into Lady Bird Lake, and we work with the city, county and state level forces to ensure that a contamination like that couldn’t happen.”

The AHMP has conducted previous preparedness exercises at nuclear reactors and other sites, and has been on campus before when it tested the ability of the University to respond to a theoretical radioactive leak in January 2011. Gabriel said these tests are one of many that the University conducts.

“The University has drills like this somewhere between every six months to a year. We train together with environmental health services, the fire department — we even notify the EPA and then sometimes they become fully engaging,” Gabriel said. “The UT police had eight officers here alone.”

AHMP selected UT as the location for the drill at its last national conference because of some AHMP members’ involvement with UT, said Peter Schneider, safety officer for AHMP at the drill.

University Operations spokeswoman Cindy Posey demonstrated how her department would use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to keep the public updated in the event of a chemical danger, as well as where they would set up the media crews and what messages would be sent out.

“In order to prepare for something like this you just have to go through the motions,” Posey said. “It’s unlike a tabletop exercise where we just sit in a conference room and act like we are dealing with virtual people. Here we’re actually in the field and it gets us really ready for any possible event.” 

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Public services collaborate for drill.