Agencies planning response practice

If you’re headed to Needham Township on Wednesday morning, don’t worry about all the fire trucks, police cars and people in hazardous materials suits — it’s just a drill.

More than a dozen emergency workers from Johnson and Shelby counties will participate in a mock emergency drill along State Road 44. The drill will take place at the Apostolic Gospel Church, east of Interstate 65.

The road will not be closed during the drill, but motorists can expect to see multiple vehicles and emergency workers at the church, Johnson County Emergency Management Agency director Stephanie Sichting said.

In the drill, emergency workers will have to know how to handle and secure dangerous chemicals.

For the emergency management agencies to receive a grant to cover the cost of the drill, they had to include in their scenario at least one highly dangerous chemicals listed by the state, such as anhydrous ammonia and propane gas, Sichting said.

The mock scenario will take about an hour or two, and then everyone will meet to discuss what worked, what did not and what needs to change, Sichting said.

Next month, the same group of emergency personnel will get together again to complete a formal report about the drill.

The drill will give volunteer and full-time firefighters, police officers and hazardous materials teams a chance to practice what to do during a crisis, Sichting said.

Both the Johnson County and Shelby County emergency management teams received grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cover the drill’s $14,000 cost.

Since both volunteer and full-time firefighters will be involved, Sichting will study how volunteer firefighters determine if they can get to a fire or accident fast enough or if they need to call in a neighboring fire department.

The other goal of the scenario is to see what goes through emergency responders’ minds and if they’re going through the right steps and calling agencies in the right order, Sichting said.

This is one of the first times in the state that two emergency management agencies have worked together during a mock drill, Sichting said.

Since Shelby County organizations will use the same teams as Johnson County, such as the Greenwood Hazardous Materials Response team, it made sense to practice the scenario together, she said.

The last full-scale mock emergency drill was done more than four years ago, Sichting said.

The agency hosts an emergency exercise annually with local first responders.

But having a full-scale drill will give them a better feel for what an emergency situation could look like, Sichting said.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Needham Volunteer Fire Department, White River Township Fire Department, Greenwood Hazardous Materials Response Team, Franklin Fire Department, Franklin Police Department, Johnson County Health Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Shelbyville Fire Department, 9-1-1 Center, Shelby County Emergency Management Agency and Shelby County Health Department will be participating in the drill.