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Research Campus used as training site for emergency response personnel

By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó A nightmare scenario unfolds at the North Carolina Research Campus.
The 350-acre facility is locked down after a gunman ó a disgruntled employee ó has shot several people.
He now threatens to set off a device releasing an unknown chemical agent at the campus’ power plant.
How do local law enforcement, firefighters and medics respond?
That was the scenario facing local agencies Sunday morning during the first live-practice exercise to prepare personnel for such emergencies.
Their mission during the weeks of preparation leading up to the exercise, and during more drills in the months to come, is simple: Be ready for anything.
Kannapolis Police Chief Woody Chavis explained the scenario from within the command center trailer set up on North Ridge Avenue, across from the campus’ central energy plant.
“There were several objectives we were looking at today,” Chavis said. “We’re doing our best to tax everybody, seeing that everybody gets a chance to be involved.”
“Everybody” means the members of agencies that belong to Task Force 21 ó the official name of an area response team comprised of the Kannapolis Police Department and Fire Department, Cabarrus County EMS, Cabarrus County Rescue Squad, Concord Fire Department and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, as well as county emergency management officials.
Chavis said he felt the training exercise was “very, very successful,” noting that weeks of preparation had gone into training officers for what to expect.
Cabarrus County Emergency Management Director Bobby Smith also said the training went very well.
“Any time you put multiple agencies on one scene, it takes careful organization to successfully pull it off,” he said.
“We do these drills to see where we’re at and what gaps we may find,” Smith said.
Outside the command post, a white smoke bomb outside the power plant simulated the chemical, while a rental truck nearby was the vehicle from which the assailant set off the device.
Some yards away, members of the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department’s special response team moved forward wearing hazardous materials gear, weapons at the ready.
And motorists along Ridge Avenue slowed down to watch the exercise unfold.
Meanwhile, Main Street was blocked off at Loop Road ó the staging area, where emergency vehicles were stationed.
There, simulated victims were brought for triage and transport to Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast.
Personnel returning from the scene went through decontamination procedures in showers and tents set up along Main Street near the triage area.
The event allowed all aspects of large-scale emergency response to be simulated, from working with those pieces of specialized protective equipment to the logistics of handling multiple victims and following extraordinary procedures.
“I felt that today’s training didn’t raise any issues we haven’t experienced before,” said Cabarrus County Sheriff Brad Riley, speaking of the challenge of responding to the Research Campus.
Riley said that the tactical situation of responding to calls at the campus will not differ much from other situations that his deputies have faced.
The type of situation simulated on Sunday was also nothing totally new. The agencies that make up Task Force 21 have several similar joint training exercises throughout the year, Riley said.
“I think it went really well,” he said of Sunday’s training.
At the same time, Kannapolis Assistant Fire Chief Scott Linebarger said that responding to the Research Campus once it is fully completed and staffed will pose new challenges for his agency.
“One of our concerns is the amount of people who will be occupying this property that we have to protect,” Linebarger said.
“We’ll be responding to parking decks, and responding in increased traffic. Put all that together with the population that’s going to be on this site and it’s going to be a challenge.”
Officials from Castle & Cooke, owner and developer of the N.C. Research Campus, were not on site Monday, according to Linebarger.
But he and other officials said they were grateful for Castle & Cooke’s assistance in planning the operation and allowing access to the site, especially during the intensive construction efforts taking place.
“It’s invaluable to be able to train on-site,” Riley said.
Chavis said that each agency will continue to train, as usual, for operations at the Research Campus, with more drills to come as new buildings come online.
For instance, the 311,000-square-foot Murdock Core Lab, now nearing completion, was not a part of Sunday’s training.
“The power plant was the first building complete, so we decided to start with it,” Chavis said.
“Castle & Cooke was good enough to let us in on the ground floor of this, and we’ll continue training as construction goes on.”
Chavis said that future exercises would be larger, helping acquaint agencies with all parts of the facility.
“We’ll build out working relationship with the Research Campus, so we evolve with them,” Chavis said.
Contact Hugh Fisher at 704-797-4245 or hfisher@salisburypost.com.

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