First responders practice nuclear disaster preparedness drill

Scenario: Palm Beach County hosting evacuees

It was all for practice. But, Palm Beach County first responders got critical training Wednesday in Lake Worth on real-life kinds of scenarios for a real-life emergency.

The hypothetical scenario is a nuclear disaster at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. Residents would have to be evacuated. And John Prince Park in Lake Worth would serve as the so-called reception area.

Bill Johnson, the Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director says, "We would receive them here. We would assess them and then we would either move them into a temporary shelter or we would look to find them more appropriate places for them."

As a firefighter and paramedic for nearly 6 years Chris Banks is used to dealing with emergencies. But even he thinks, this test drill makes him a better first responder.

Banks says, "We try to make it as realistic as possible".  They also practice a lot, so that ...when it's a real event, it's just second nature to us."

Palm Beach County first responders were practicing how they would process evacuated residents from St. Lucie County. This year, there was even a new element. Pets! Sammy, a Chihuahua, was up for the task.

Lizzette Romano, the American Red Cross Liaison, says "He [Sammy] is one of the volunteers that's going to be going through the decon."  As in decontamination. The decontamination center was set up, the supplies were out and the first responders were ready to practice as soon as the pretend evacuees arrived. Banks calls the drill fun and difficult because of the heat. Still, he says, "Other than that, [I] love the job. So wouldn't trade it for anything else."

This drill happens every year. But every other year, FEMA and other federal agencies evaluate Palm Beach County's response.

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