HAMMOND — Students and parents weren’t sure what was going on at Hammond Magnet High School one recent evening. T-shirted firefighters wearing latex gloves and yellow bags over their boots kept tabs as people walked through what looked like a plastic-wrapped metal detector.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was grading firefighters’ ability to deal with nuclear contamination.
State Department of Environmental Quality workers also were there, examining the school as a potential spot to bring people from St. Charles Parish in case of disaster at the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant in Killona.
Fire Chief John Thomas said Hammond is one of many locations in Louisiana considered for use as a possible decontamination zone or reception center and is one of the nearest suitable locations to Killona.
The firefighters first checked cars for radiation.
“If the car has radioactive elements, then usually the person does too,” Thomas said.
If the drill had the car marked clean, the driver and any passengers had to be checked. That’s where the walk-through detector came in. Unlike ticking Geiger counters, it beeps loudly if it detects radioactivity.
People testing clean went indoors to meet with Red Cross workers who took their information and asked if they needed shelter.
If the machine beeped, people had to step back and go through again for a second reading. A second beep sent them to the decontamination station.
Decontaminating, Thomas said, “could be as easy as taking their shirt off” or could require hospital treatment.
Overall, Thomas was proud of his team.
“They took it seriously. I’m proud of them. This isn’t something we do every day,” he said.