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Barrow disaster training a hit, officials say

WINDER -- A tractor-trailer hauling gobs of toxic chemicals was hypothetically blasted by a train after it stalled on railroad tracks near downtown Winder. It didn't really happen, but it could have.

Officials spanning a wide swath of the Barrow County community came together to ponder the what-ifs last month. The hypothetical tractor-trailer could just as well have been a brawling tornado, or disastrous flood.

The toxic-spill scenario was played out for participants of the Local Emergency Planning Committee during a late-September tabletop drill.

"Tabletop training sessions are a valuable tool for our emergency responders," said LEPC President Mike Williams. "It gives them an opportunity to get to know one another and work together."

Participants in the emergency drill included representatives from Barrow fire and law enforcement departments, Jackson EMC officials, GEMA, hospital and school staff, the American Red Cross and even a poultry business.

As with a real situation, caution was the order of the day, as emergency responders established evacuation areas and gathered knowledge of the hypothetical hazardous materials involved. Participants worked together to establish priorities, handle the scene, develop information to be released to the media and general public, and many other parts of the drill.

The drill lasted several hours and included plans to evacuate schools and businesses in the area, said Barrow County Emergency Services spokesman Lt. Scott Dakin.

Shelters were established and Barrow Regional Medical Centers Emergency Room was set up to treat and decontaminate all patients from the scene.

Turns out it was a hypothetical false alarm.

As the scenario played out, Dakin said it was determined that the only spills were from the diesel fuel of the locomotive trains -- a problem quickly remedied.

"We're fortunate to have leadership in Barrow County that supports this type of training and cooperation," Williams said.