What if information led to the discovery of a threat — possibly involving a person with weapons of mass destruction —unfolding in a laboratory spotted in a room at your school?

What if information led to the discovery of a threat — possibly involving a person with weapons of mass destruction — unfolding in a laboratory spotted in a room at your school?

That fictitious yet realistic scenario formed the basis for a joint operation between members of the Hannibal Fire Department, the 7th WMD Civil Support Team with Missouri National Guard from Jefferson City and Hannibal-LaGrange University Public Safety on Thursday, Aug. 23, inside and surrounding the Becky Thatcher House at Hannibal LaGrange University. Hannibal Fire Department Training Officer John Baker said that all of the personnel were working together to best pool their resources to locate, investigate and secure the reported threat.

Baker said that the training scenario details said personnel received information that a person suspected of involvement in a state- or national-level threat was possibly in the Hannibal area. Someone reported that they saw what appeared to be a laboratory as they peered through a window one evening. According to the scenario, the 7th WMD Civil Support Unit was already in the area because of the suspect's whereabouts, and they were activated for the training scenario to determine exactly what was happening in that laboratory.

Members of the Hannibal Fire Department Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction Response Unit have responded to more benign calls such as anhydrous ammonia spills or other chemicals in the past. But Baker stressed how important it is to be prepared for serious situations like this — the day's training could involve anything inside the laboratory, based on the training information everyone received. And members of each emergency response group worked expertly together to construct a decontamination line just outside the building, establishing distinct zones with colored tape: red is the hot zone, which contains the contaminant; the yellow zone is the warm zone, where the contaminant is removed; and the green zone is contaminant-free.

Everyone who executed the plan and augmented each other's skills and strengths appreciated the chance to work toward responding to a threat as efficiently and safely as possible.

“Training together is important, because if something like this happens, we don't want to be meeting each other for the first time,” said Maj. Lindsey Decker, Commander of the 7th WMD Civil Support Team. “ We need the fire department to understand our capabilities, so they know when to reach out to us, and then we also need to understand their capabilities and how we can augment and support them in the best way.”

Baker said that he and fellow Hannibal Fire Department personnel have conducted joint training exercises with the 7th WMD Civil Support Team in the past. Captain Mark Kempker said the opportunity for everyone to work together provided benefits as everyone becomes familiar with techniques and how each other's equipment functions. “This is low frequency for us, so we do training, but this is their bread and butter,” Baker said. “They're top of the game, so it's really vital to have that resource given to us.”

Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com