MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI -- A program is underway to ensure the entire Station community is protected in the event of an intentional or accidental chemical or biological incident.
The first step in this plan was to fit Station noncombatants for respirators and provide training on how to best deal with large-scale incidents that could contaminate the Station.
The key component to this protective measure are the more than 4,000 half-faced air purifying respirators issued to each noncombatant member of the community.
"These respirators are designed to help against biological or chemical attacks," said Col. Dave Darrah, Station commanding officer. "An industrial hazard or train derailment, whether it be by terrorist attack or accident, is a constant threat, and it would be foolish not to have something that helps so much."
The respirators protect against harmful agents to the respiratory system such as hydrogen gas, chlorine gas, tear gas, sarin gas, and biological agents like anthrax.
Nine separate training sessions were held by the Station Safety Center for all Station personnel, including family members, Department of Defense and Japanese employees.
Those who attended learned about why the respirators are going to be issued, information and training on the respirators and a questions and answer period. This was followed up with one of the most important parts of the process - individual fitting of the masks.
"We wanted to make sure the respirators fit properly," said Richard Perry, Station safety officer. "The base can't afford to go buy thousands of each size of respirator, so we brought everyone in to make sure we got a proper fit and a correct count of all the respirators we needed."
The respirators are another step toward civil defense, and are the same type used by professionals dealing with industrial strength chemicals. Because they are professional grade, does not mean they are complicated or difficult to use.
With training and the respirators, Station residents will be better prepared to react and help themselves.
"When the mask is in my hands I will feel much better," said Alialy Negron, family member. "If something does happen it will protect me better than anything else."
Although the idea of an incident like this is uncomfortable, the respirators and the training have given people a better sense of comfort and understanding.
"These respirators offer the community a level of protection and allows them to feel safe in their homes," said Devin Johnston-Lee, Station assistant fire chief. "It should provide a comfort level, so they will stay sheltered at home and feel safe until help can arrive and take them to a non-contaminated area."