The Camp Minden Emergency Response Group, comprised of numerous local and state response agencies representing fire, hazmat, law enforcement, rescue, medical and emergency management disciplines of Webster and Bossier parishes, held the exercise to measure their performance in response to a mock on-site explosive emergency.
Planning for this exercise began in January. The shockwaves and booms were not real, but in the event they were, responders would be ready thanks to this training exercise.
"This helps us to identify any weaknesses in our plans and fix them," said Col. Carl Thompson, Camp Minden's public affairs officer. "We did a training exercise like this last year, and it paid off real well last month when we had to deal with the real life situation."
On March 21, a production facility at Camp Minden caught fire around 7:20 a.m. Emergency workers assembled at a predetermined command post and closely monitored the burning structure. There were reportedly 3,000 pounds of explosives inside the facility, and after the blaze was contained no injuries were reported.
"Last year's training exercise was the same building and same plan as the fire emergency we had at Camp Minden," said John Stanley, Director of Webster Parish Office of Homeland Security. "We were very fortunate to burn the explosives without a detonation, and we did it because we learned from last year's exercise."
While the previous scenario involved an explosive situation within the manufacturing facility of an explosives company, this year's scenario involved an explosion within a magazine, an earth-covered explosives storage area.
The mock-briefing Col. Thompson delivered to the media said employees around magazine 2305 (where the explosion occurred based on smoke in that area) evacuated the area. The magazine contained approximately 1,000 pounds of black powder and 167,000 pounds of M-6 propellant. Headcounts showed six employees were missing.
A state police helicopter arrived on scene approximately one hour after the initial explosion and conducted a flyover of the area, revealing the magazine was completely destroyed. There were no signs of surviving personnel at the magazine.
In the surrounding areas, some employees were found and had sustained injuries. Fire from the explosion had spread to the south due to the prevailing wind and had burned the entire southwest section but had not made it to the east. All injured persons were taken for treatment at Minden Medical Center.
This exercise was led by Camp Minden's Col. James Knotts and included Camp Minden Military Police, administration, specialists and tenant representatives, Bossier Parish Fire District 1, Webster Parish Sheriff's Office, Hazmat, and Communications, Webster Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana State Police, Minden Medical Center, Webster Parish E-911 Communications District, Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Webster Parish School Board and others.
Stanley said Camp Minden is not required to do the exercises, but they participate willingly.
"Before we started doing this, people didn't know what these buildings held and how to handle them properly in case of an emergency," he said. "These exercises make you think about the what-ifs and show you what people are and are not prepared to handle. It helps us be as prepared as we can get."
One thing the officials were not prepared for were two real-life situations – a hazardous spill that delayed some of the participants and a wreck that occurred on Hwy. 371, calling some participants away. For information on that spill, see the article on page 1. The wreck was reported in the Minden Press-Herald on Friday, May 6.
"Things like this really happen," said Sammie Halphen, director of Bossier Parish Homeland Security. "We may have another emergency at the time something like this occurs and we have to be ready. It's a good thing we were able to train for that."
According to officials at Camp Minden, Homeland Security and Camp Minden will continue to plan annual exercises to ensure that response to any emergency event within or affecting the site is as effective and proficient as possible.
Real deal delays drill
In the early morning hours of Friday, May 6, a truck driver carrying a load of hydrochloric acid noticed smoke coming from the back of his truck. He was heading eastbound on I-20 and exited at the Goodwill Rd. exit (exit 38). He checked his load and noticed a leak coming from the trailer. The trucker then used his truck to block the exit so that other traffic wouldn’t drive through the spill. He then called 9-1-1 and contacted a Hazmat team about the spill.
“I commend that man for his quick thinking,” said Cordell Williams, Public Information Officer for Louisiana State Troop G. “He could have saved some lives.”
Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water. It is highly corrosive and can form acidic mists. Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin and intestines.
The spill was cleaned and no one was injured.