FARMINGTON — While local emergency response agencies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 12 years practicing responses to terrorism scenarios, San Juan County has never had an incident to warrant putting all that preparation into action.
And this year's exercise, which is scheduled for Saturday morning, will cost more than $70,000.
San Juan County Emergency Manager Don Cooper defended the cost, saying that the training ensures the county is prepared for a major emergency.
"If something happens, we're prepared," he said. "The money that we are spending is a guarantee that if something bad happens, we're prepared to do what's needed."
During Saturday's drill, San Juan County law enforcement and emergency response agencies will react as if terrorists attacked San Juan College and a local energy industry. In that type of scenario, response agencies would operate under an Emergency Operations Center based out of the county government complex on Oliver Drive in Aztec, Cooper said.
"I'm not worried about al-Qaida coming over here and screwing with us," he said. "I'm worried about domestic terrorism."
Local agencies have practiced operating under an Emergency Operations Center since 2001. Each year, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management and a local energy company host the drill.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires that the county hold full-scale exercises like the one on Saturday, two smaller exercises, a "table-top" exercise and a seminar every three years to receive federal funding for training and equipment.
"I don't know how you get away with not doing it every year," Cooper said. "The training helps on a daily basis."
About 290 people are scheduled to take part in Saturday's drill, which will last from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Exercises will take place at San Juan College, a Kinder Morgan facility on County Road 4900, San Juan Regional Medical Center and the county government complex. Personnel will stage at Heights Middle School and Bloomfield High School prior to the drill.
So far, the county's Office of Emergency Management has spent $38,000 preparing for the drill this year. That includes reimbursing employees who went to training seminars and covering the cost of supplies, training materials, emergency equipment and lunch-time meetings to plan the drill, according to county documents.
The money comes from grants the county receives annually from the Department of Homeland Security, Cooper said.
Those grants will cover more than $23,000 of pay for police officers and other first-responders who participate in Saturday's drill.
Cooper said San Juan County receives more training funds than other New Mexico counties because the county does the drill every year, instead of every three years. If the county scaled back training, it would receive less money, he said.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen agreed that holding the training every year has advantages.
"These drills become part of a bigger picture if we ever had an emergency," he said. "By doing it every year, we're probably better off."
Farmington police Sgt. Donnie Kee said about 50 Farmington police officers will participate in the drill. Farmington officers are projected to receive $11,400 for their participation, according to county documents.
"It's a multi-agency cooperative effort, and it's a multi-discipline effort," Kee said. "In addition to law enforcement, it includes San Juan County Fire, Farmington Fire and San Juan Regional Medical Center EMS."
This year's scenario focuses on an imaginary group of people in a San Juan College program, which leads to jobs on a Kinder Morgan project. In the scenario, the people are arrested and expelled from the program after getting caught with methamphetamines.
Two of the people attack San Juan College, shooting students at two locations on campus and leaving 50 victims. While the shooting is happening, two people from the group also bomb the Kinder Morgan facility.
Kee said Farmington wanted to send 50 of its officers to the drill because that many or more would quickly respond if there ever was a school shooting in Farmington.
"This year's incident is at San Juan College, and that's in our jurisdiction," Kee said. "So that would be a huge response for us."
On Saturday, Cooper said people can expect to hear emergency response sirens and see emergency responders in full gear.
A news release from the Office of Emergency Management asks the public to be cautious when driving through areas where the exercises are taking place.
"The object of the simulated emergency response drill is to make it as realistic as possible in order to provide emergency personnel, Kinder Morgan employees and San Juan College personnel the best training experience possible," according to the release.
During the training, law enforcement will use critical incident management skills to control both emergencies. Firefighters and paramedics will work on emergency triage at the scene, and hospital staff will practice being inundated with 50 patients at once.
Kinger Morgan West Regional Natural Gas Pipelines is the host of the emergency response drill this year, which means the business provided $10,000 and a location for the drill. That donation, plus $38,000 in expenses and $23,000 in projected payouts to emergency personnel, brings the total cost of the exercise to about $70,000, according to county documents.
"Kinder Morgan is proud to be the 2013 Local Emergency Planning Committee Sponsor and participate in this vital drill to ensure all local agencies are adequately prepared for potential emergencies," said Doug Schminke, Kinder Morgan operations manager, in a news release.