May 5, 2013 in Region

Montana sites to hold nuclear drill

Associated Press

GREAT FALLS – Montana will be the site of a large training exercise this week as military officials prepare for the worst of all fears: an attack on nuclear facilities.

Personnel at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls regularly test how they would respond to such a dangerous incident.

But the Great Falls Tribune reported that starting Monday, the base – along with Fort Harrison in Helena – will be the focus of a national exercise bringing about 1,000 people to Montana.

Some state and local first-responders will also be involved to make sure the link between military and civilians in the event of an emergency is robust.

If something bad happens, “we want to kind of go on autopilot,” said Col. Rob Stanley, 341st missile wing commander at Malmstrom.

There will be several scenarios: It could be a Department of Energy shipment that goes awry, or maybe a hostile action on base.

Federal, state and local agencies have emergency response plans, but anything involving a nuclear weapon initiates a higher response and having military, government and civilian agencies understand the plan, lingo and how the others operate is critical.

“If it were to involve a nuke, we don’t have a lot of time,” Stanley said. “It helps prevent any delay in response actions.”

Vince Kolar with Cascade County Disaster and Emergency Services said some local first responders will participate in the exercise.

“If the real thing happens, the locals are probably going to be the first ones on the scene. We’re usually pretty involved in local exercises,” Kolar said. “(The military) command structure is a little different than ours and once there’s a nuclear weapon involved, it’s a different show. It’s a little different situation for these responders than they’re used to.”

Additionally, some Montana National Guard and state emergency responders will participate.

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