Chemical stockpile depleting, but KY crews still prepared for disaster

RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ)  – Even though the threat of a chemical weapons catastrophe in Madison County is diminishing with the gradual destruction of aging weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, the training to deal with a disaster goes on.

“That’s what’s most important- is being prepared before anything happens,” Dustin Heiser, Madison County Emergency Management Director, said.

That’s why Heiser said  he takes the annual chemical stockpile emergency drill seriously. Crews follow all the steps as if it was an actual emergency.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Heiser said. “We constantly practice, practice, practice to hone our skills.”

Emergency personnel work together to determine the threat level and inform the public.

“Whether that’s shelter in place – it could later be after you shelter in place, we need you to exit shelter, or we need you to relocate,” Heiser said. “And at some point we may even issue an all clear.”

It’s a scenario that’s never happened, but Heiser said crews will always stay ready.

Cheryl Layman, an emergency management specialist with FEMA, has been coming to Madison county’s annual drill for the past 20 years.

“We will be observing what they do, comparing their actions to their plans and like any good coach, giving them some type of feedback,” Layman said.

She said she’s seen the crews grow over the years – from the addition of social media, to better execution of plans.

“I tell ya, if I was a resident here, I would be so appreciative of the dedicated professionals that you have here on the ground,” Layman said.

She said though a chemical hasn’t been released in the community, the training is good for much more than that. Ice storms, floods and other emergencies follow similar protocols. It’s why she and Heiser stress the importance of every family having a plan.

“This is National Preparedness Month, and it’s a perfect time to take 5 minutes out of your evening with your family to pause and say ‘what if,’” Layman said.

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