First responders statewide prep for mass disaster with drill - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

First responders statewide prep for mass disaster with drill

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Just two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing, first responders from across Iowa are preparing for what to do if large scale explosives are ever found in our state.   A full-scale weapons of mass destruction drill in Waterloo was planned months before the Boston Bombing.           

Police say such national events are all the more reason to train for disaster.

It was only a test: a vehicle found at the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo loaded with explosives inside.  It's a situation that really isn't unrealistic, and when it does happen, the professionals want to be ready.

To practice, the Waterloo Bomb Squad sent its robot to the car to check things out.  With pictures and information in hand, a suited bomb squad officer went to the car, and when he returned, the device was disarmed.  That's the way first responders want to handle a situation like that:  use available technology, and safely disarm dangerous devices.

"We like to render devices safe.  We call it RSP.  That's our goal, so that traffic can continue.  Nobody's injured.  There's no immediate threat to anyone," said Brian Hoelscher with the Waterloo Bomb Squad.

But in this scenario, the danger was far from over.  During their investigation, police found a map inside the car with locations of possible other bombs on Cattle Congress grounds.  That launched SWAT and haz-mat team response in those areas.

"Definitely getting them together and sharing some of the tactics and procedures is beneficial for a real world incident," said Capt. Kevin Johnson, operations officer for the 71st Civil Support Team.

While clearing the scene inside another building during the drill, police nabbed a suspect.  The suspect and police go through decontamination to remove any possible chemicals.  It's all great practice for emergency responders, should a real disaster happen.

"It's definitely something that not everybody uses everyday, so getting these folks together and using some of the monitoring equipment and that is stuff you need to keep up on," Johnson said.

This kind of practice is increasingly important, as this kind of event is actually becoming more common.

"It seems more and more that we'll get called out on suspicious packages or pipe bombs, which is unfortunately kind of familiar to this area of the Midwest," said Hoelscher.

With training now behind them, responders are now more confident and ready to respond to a major event. 

After the drill is done, agencies from across the state will be talking about what went right, and what went wrong so they can decide if any changes are needed in responding to an actual disaster. 

A state level full-scale emergency drill, like the one Tuesday, is usually done at least once a year.

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