April 14, 2002 – The 50th anniversary V.I. Carnival celebration, the territory's biggest public event of the year, is providing the first opportunity for a newly formed security team to flex its muscles — the personnel wearing the T-shirts that say "Hazmat" on the back.
The Virgin Islands Hazmat team was created in response to a nationwide call for greater domestic, or "homeland," security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the deliberate spread of anthrax through the postal system on the mainland.
Until now the term "Hazmat" has commonly been used to refer oil spills, leaking chemical contaminants and other incidents involving "hazardous materials." But because of the recent events, the definition has been expanded to include bioterrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
In the Virgin Islands, it's the duty of the Hazmat team to protect the public from such threats and to take a pro-active approach to situations which might prove attractive targets for terrorists. Last fall, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull named the head of the V.I. National Guard, Adj. Gen. Cleave McBean, to direct the territory's Hazmat operations.
A federal grant through the V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission is providing operating funds. According to the LEPC director, Eddy Charles, the team is taking on a security role this Carnival season as part of its training. "We're using the Carnival as part of their training because federal folk from the U.S. Department of Justice are programmed to come during the Carnival to provide instruction on handling mass casualties," he said.
The Hazmat team is made up of enforcement officers from the Police Department, Fire Service and Planning and Natural Resources Department plus volunteers from St. Thomas Rescue. The team's mission, according to Kenneth Blake, Carnival Committee chair and police officer, is to make sure the venue for the annual shows — Lionel Roberts Stadium — is free of bombs and other threats.
At the Queen and King Talent and Selection Show on April 6, things got a little sticky when Hazmat personnel began searching vehicles entering the stadium — without the prior knowledge of the Carnival Committee or the police. "We had no problem with the people sweeping the place," Blake said later, "but when it comes to checking vehicles, it creates a problem because it creates a bottleneck."
Agreement on some ground rules was reached at a meeting this past week at Government House, and McBean said he will further refine the Hazmat role by Monday. That task takes on added importance with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington scheduled to make a liberty call at St. Thomas, sending some 5,000 Navy personnel ashore during Carnival.
"What I am trying to do is get everyone to understand what their role is in this operation," McBean said.
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