Imagine if boaters at the T.J. House Reservoir in Mulberry were kidnapped by a terrorist intent on contaminating Mulberry’s water supply.
It’s not a scenario anyone wants to think about, but it’s one that emergency personnel have to be prepared for, which was the idea behind the mock rescue exercise coordinated by the Crawford County Department of Emergency Management Director Brad Thomas on Saturday morning at the reservoir. The exercise involved emergency personnel from all over Crawford County, including Crawford County Search and Rescue, Medical Reserve Corps, Rural Fire Districts 1 and 2, Sheriff’s Office, the Mulberry Police Department, the city of Mulberry and Southwest EMS.
Search and rescue and dive teams took pontoon boats and rigid rafts out onto the water starting at 8 a.m. The first phase of the scenario was to look for the missing watercraft the boaters were in at the time of their abduction.
“Originally, the terrorist was just planning to contaminate the water supply,” explained Chris Hoover, deputy director of Crawford County Emergency Management. “But then his plans went awry when he found the boaters here.”
As the search teams reached the other side of the lake, they spotted what they thought was someone in a black shirt. It turned out to be a black bear, which quickly took off and headed deeper into the woods.
It took a lot of coordination for such a mock scenario to play out, so Emergency Management had its mobile command unit, an RV with advanced tactical communication equipment, on site. It allowed for quick coordination and quick improvisation to test the response of the different agencies.
To bring in a hazardous material aspect to the scenario, an empty canister marked with a red X was “located” by Hoover near the campsite set up as a base of operations at the boat launch outside the mobile command unit. He brought it into the campsite, requiring the area and himself to be decontaminated, as the scenario dictated that the material in the canister was nitrobenzene.
Unfortunately, a gas grill where hamburgers and hot dogs donated by Paul’s Bakery, Walmart and Citizens Bank was caught in the “hot zone." Fortunately, they didn’t burn.
On the other side of the lake, the boaters-turned-kidnap victims, Janice Scaggs and Tina Steele, were eventually located by firefighters after an arduous and thorough search of the area by Crawford County Search and Rescue.
Despite the scenario being a “mock” rescue, victim Steele was treated as if she had been seriously injured, with emergency personnel loading her into one of the rigid rafts on a stretcher due to a “possible head injury,", and was unloaded at the boat launch strapped to the board. And everyone was “decontaminated” by walking through a mock shower set up by hazmat personnel in actual suits.
“We’re very happy to be able to use the reservoir for this training exercise for something we hope we never have to use, but we want to make sure all of our people are well-trained,” said Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter.