Operation Vigilant Catamount featured a series of drills around Western North Carolina last week, with everything culminating with the massive Canton Papertown drill. The Canton portion of the drill kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday, when a scene was staged in which a truck carrying hazardous materials was t-boned by another vehicle. A simulated chlorine gas leak led to multiple injuries and two fatalities.
Initially, hundreds of emergency responders from around the county descended on the command headquarters, situated above the Evergreen Paper Mill, and the decontamination station about 100 yards from ground zero. Within an hour, they were joined by over 400 National Guardsmen from the 42nd Civil Support Team out of Greenville, North Carolina.
Once the National Guard arrived, they made the determination that a “striker team” was needed. The striker team uses specialized equipment to determine airborne contamination, assess the risk to the public and determine an appropriate response.
Along with testing the National Guard and its capabilities to work with local emergency responders, the drill gave local emergency responders a chance to hone their own kills on familiar ground. In addition, the drill served as a good chance for the paper mill to test its emergency responders.
The entirety of the drills conducted in the region will end up costing state and local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars combined, but authorities say the successful responses to disasters such as Hurricane Matthew and the recent unrest in Charlotte as being examples of why these drills are a good investment.