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      State health lab prepares for disaster

      An unknown white powder|

      In a package in the mail room|

      That might sound like an overused set-up for a movie about terrorism.

      It's exactly the kind of threat they take seriously at the Missouri State Health Laboratory.

      It was also the scenario for Tuesday TMs disaster drill.

      As the region's only bio-safety level three laboratory, with about 100 employees, the Missouri State Health Department Lab a collection point for all kinds of disease and toxins submitted for testing.

      "We received thousands of specimens every day and we process them, Assistant Lab Director Mary Menges said. And there could be an opportunity for something to go astray.

      In order to keep business at the lab from being halted, the drill was conducted twice with half the staff participated in each exercise.

      Since 9/11, the investment in and the focus on hazardous material contamination has exploded.

      "Success to us would be being able to go in and figure out what the chemical or hazard might be, mitigate that, take care of it, Cole County Emergency Director Bill Farr said.

      Success is also dealing with dozens of people who might be exposed.

      "We know that danger, there's a presence within that building 24/7, Disaster Accountability Captain Melinda Luadzers said.

      Despite the potential for mass casualties, responders must condition themselves to proceed with caution.

      "You have to understand what the agent is, what's involved with the treatment of that specific agent, Cole County EMS Director Mike Shirts said. So you have to scale back and identify exactly what's goin' on.

      Emergency responders are trained to take charge of any situation. Hazardous materials demand stringent protocols and procedures. Firefighters are usually first on the scene.

      "Most of 'em have never seen a fully-deployed hazmat operation, Jefferson City Fire Chief Bob Rennick said. So that's a good opportunity to see what's going on to see where they fit into the picture.