Conway, CCU officials tested during radiation leak drill

October 3, 2013 

Conway area emergency officials were put to the test Thursday morning when a radiation leak contaminated students inside a Coastal Carolina University science building.

The contamination was a drill with first-responders, school emergency officials and Conway Medical Center to test their readiness for such a disaster.

The scenario was this: About 8:45 a.m. Thursday, 911 officials were notified that there was a fire near the CCU Science Building in the Atlantic Center Industrial Park and a device was compromised involving a Beta radiation source, officials said. The radiation leak contaminated 35 students.

Within minutes of the start of the exercise, CCU public safety officials were securing a metal building at 485 Century Circle, coordinating with other agencies about response and checking the condition of several CCU ROTC students, who pretended to be victims and were in a grassy field next to the building.

A dispatcher’s voice echoed through several portable radios carried by the emergency responders that there was “an active fire alarm with smoke showing and at least one victim on the field.”

Minutes later, Conway and Horry County firefighters and police were at the scene.

“We want to see a unified command and how all the departments work together when an incident takes place,” said Arnold Spain, CCU’s safety and emergency manager. “We did well. All the players participated and did well.”The drill was the first of its kind in the area and the first large scale exercise the school and hospital officials participated in this year. None of the regular activities at CCU or the hospital were impacted during the exercise.

“In our area we have not experienced a large number of true disasters, but it’s still important for the hospital to assess how they would respond,” said Julie Rajotte, Conway Medical Center spokeswoman, as she stood next to a makeshift decontamination area behind the hospital where employees checked “patients” arriving from the campus.

“It’s good for us to be able to reenact a potential situation and then look at the policies and procedures for what actually worked and didn’t,” Rajotte said. “You can never dismiss that real life experience or in this case the pretend real life experience learned in doing this.”In addition to the Conway hospital staffers, which included volunteers, nurses, doctors and support staff, employees with McLeod Seacoast Hospital, McLeod Loris Hospital and their hazmat responders were assisting in the drill.

Officials will critique their actions and effectiveness of various systems such as radio communication, messages for the public and preventing the contamination from leaving contained areas.

“This gives them the chance to see how they work together in a pretty close to real life situation,” said Martha Hunn, CCU’s spokeswoman.

Two of the student actors were taken to Conway Medical Center’s triage area, while hospital officials used dummies for the remaining 118 people exposed during the incident.

Officials also tested their emergency communications with a CCU test alert sent at 9:21 a.m. Thursday. Horry County officials also send a Code Red test for residents in the nearby area to test that recently implemented system, which is a reverse 911 call for residents in the impacted area.

“It gave them an opportunity to test Code Red, which proved it worked well,” Spain said. “We had some residents in the area calling about the activity. It’s a good thing for Horry County citizens.”

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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