GEMA/HS Dispatch Sept 2018 - Page 18

OPERATION HOTPLATE Multi-year initiative to address intentional food contamination culminates in first-of-its-kind exercise Story & Photography by: Julia Regeski G eorgia has a reputation as a food producing powerhouse, but thanks to a multi-year, multi-agency initiative designed to facilitate response to food emergencies, the state will soon be known for its groundbreaking approach to a previously unexplored arena. Led by the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Rapid Response Team, an initiative centered on bettering emergency response to an intentional contamination of food culminated on August 16, which marked the final day of a two-day full scale exercise at the Guardian Center. The exercise brought together themes like intelligence sharing, detection and forensics discussed in previous exercises workshops, and was complete with a mock decontamination station and transport stop. “We are the first state to do a civilian radiological food contamination exercise.” -Ray Doyle, Senior Research Scientist Georgia Tech Research Institute Jeff Morrison, Program Manager with the Geor- gia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency’s Radiological Emergency Preparedness Pro- 18 | September 2018 gram, served in multiple leadership roles throughout the exercise. “The selection of radiological material as the source of the contamination increased the level of complexity within the response,” said Morrison. “Other than specialized nuclear power industry exercises, radiological contamination within the emergency response community is not as well understood as the more common threats which are seen and exercised more often.” GDA utilized several critical partnerships to ensure the exercise yielded impetus for improvement. Funding was provided through a Rapid Response Team grant obtained through the Food and Drug Administration, while long term support was provided by the Georgia Tech Research Institute. “We are the first state to do a civilian radiological food contamination exercise,” said Ray Doyle, senior research scientist at the GTRI. “There’s a lot of interest in this nationally because it’s unique. We have a lot of federal agencies that are involved because they’ve never had the opportunity to practice this way.” Doyle has been involved in planning since before the first tabletop exercise in 2016, as well as with a 2017 public information workshop and another tabletop held at a real, working U.S. Foods distribution facility. “It’s a low risk, high consequence event,” said Venessa Sims, emergency management director at GDA, who led the exercises’ planning. Sims was deliberate in bringing together the many agencies that would respond in a real-life scenario of this type such as the Georgia Department of Public Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Agriculture and many more. “Any contamination scenario which impacts the state of Georgia’s agricultural, food processing, and food