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Volunteers bring real experience to disaster response drill
07 April 2005

Connecticut, USA: Volunteers with the American Red Cross and other agencies are participating in TOPOFF-3, a federal drill that involves government and non-government partners from the National Response Plan to prepare citizens for responding to disasters.

Fortunately, the Red Cross and the other agencies participating in TOPOFF-3 are populated with volunteers and staff accustomed to wearing multiple hats.

In the simulated mustard gas attack on New London, Connecticut, local volunteer Bill Poirier changed roles often. He’s a Disaster Action Team leader within his chapter, but sampled a host of tasks this week. On Monday, he fed hundreds of participants at the Fort Trumbull site. Tuesday was family assistance work, and Wednesday was filled with logistics and moving supplies around in the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).

New London resident Lori Cannon works in the field of information security, and has trained in measures to combat cyber-terrorism. With this exercise, she put her acting skills to the test. Her role? A two-year-old boy, exposed to the mustard gas and explosion. “I’m basically going to scream and run around,” Cannon said. “We’ve been encouraged to take our roles into account.”  

While her interest in security may have prompted her to sign up for the exercise, Cannon isn’t here for any professional advantage or insight. “I haven’t thought about it for myself,” she said. “I’m just focusing on the good this could provide for the agencies involved.”

In contrast, Carol Dixon added a few decades for her TOPOFF persona. “I play a 76-year-old woman who develops difficulty breathing after going back in to help others.” Dixon drove ninety miles from Greenwich, Conn. to get into character as a blast victim. If she had wished, she could have taken part in TOPOFF-3 from her desk.

Dixon works at the Greenwich Department of Health, which was activated during a state-wide call down of available personnel. “I would have answered the phone, but instead I had my back on the pavement in New London.” She says the exercise has opened her eyes. “If there ever is something that I’ll have to respond, this is a great opportunity for me to see it from the other side,” she said. “It puts a whole new perspective on things.”