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Government, local agencies test emergency coordination

Firemen from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Fire Department carry a simulated accident victim to a triage station May 8 as part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 2007.  The exercises, which are scheduled to run from May 7-18, test military and civilian authorities throughout Alaska on all aspects of emergency preparedness as they respond to a variety of scenarios ranging from natural disasters to major accidents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Firemen from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Fire Department carry a simulated accident victim to a triage station May 8 as part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 2007. The exercises, which are scheduled to run from May 7-18, test military and civilian authorities throughout Alaska on all aspects of emergency preparedness as they respond to a variety of scenarios ranging from natural disasters to major accidents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Rescue workers from fire departments monitor and evacuate simulated casualties of a train collision May 8 as part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska. The exercises, which are scheduled to run from May 7 to 18, test military and civilian authorities throughout Alaska on all aspects of emergency preparedness as they respond to a variety of scenarios including natural disasters and major accidents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Rescue workers from fire departments monitor and evacuate simulated casualties of a train collision May 8 as part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska. The exercises, which are scheduled to run from May 7 to 18, test military and civilian authorities throughout Alaska on all aspects of emergency preparedness as they respond to a variety of scenarios including natural disasters and major accidents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AFPN) -- In a training exercise May 8, local, state and federal government agencies proved they could work together, not only to the public, but also to each other as well.

This incident was part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge, the state's portion of an annual national training exercise designed for multiple government agencies to work together in response to an emergency.

This day's scenario, part of the two-week training event on interagency coordination, focused on a passenger train colliding with a diesel fuel tanker, causing a massive spill, as well as simulating 150 people injured.

"The only way you can learn how to react to a situation like this is to train," said Megan Hamlin, a Fairbanks firefighter and part of the response team. "A simulation like this is the best way to learn how to actually work together without it being a dire emergency for real."

The event involved firefighters, the Alaska Railroad Corporation, military liaisons standing by in case their help was needed and several other government agency representatives.

"We're part of the local community, so if they needed our help, we would all work together to save lives," said Army Lt. Col. Walt Stanish, the multi-service Alaska Command medical plans and operations officer. "The military has assets that could help out in a situation like this -- ambulances, aeromedical evacuation, hospitals. Part of being a good neighbor is being ready to help."

Kerre Fisher, the lead state public health controller, deemed the day's exercise a success. Her responsibility is to prepare the state for public health emergencies, such as this.

"We wanted to test and evaluate our response system and ensure that different agencies could communicate with one another and get the job done -- communication is vital in a situation like this," she said. "Now we know what we would have to do in a situation like this."

Alaska has a memorandum of agreement that should they military assets be needed, a request can be made for things like aeromedical evacuation to save lives. Otherwise, the governor can make a request of the Department of Defense to augment civilian agencies for things like ambulance services or even security, Ms. Fisher said.

The particulars of the mock train collision weren't as important as the response efforts by the involved parties, she said.

"We just want to make sure they know how to talk with one another to get the help they need" Ms. Fisher said of all involved. "They learned what they need to do to make that happen. We all need to work together, and that's the entire point of something like this."

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