'Operation Highball' disaster drill tests capabilities of Delaware National Guard members

This time, it's only a drill. But, some day it could be the real thing.

That's why more than 300 people took part in a disaster response exercise near New Castle Thursday, coordinated by the Delaware National Guard.

Operation HIGHBALL involved this scenario: a cyber attack causes a train wreck and chemical release. People - actually, dummies - are buried under rubble. Many are seriously injured. And, many have suffered chemical exposure.

The goal of the exercise, according to Delaware National Guard Captain Sherman Jefferson: "when there is an emergency, how will we respond as a state?"

"It could be any disaster: train wrecks, winter storms, hurricanes, floods, civil disturbances," Jefferson added.

Performers were painted with gory makeup and interacted with the responders, sometimes screaming in pain or becoming combative. They were brought by stretcher into a series of tents for simulated treatment and decontamination.

"It's all about people and partnerships," Delaware National Guard Brigadier General Walter Sturek said. "We've got to practice."

"This is one of the exercises that helps us form relationships," Sturek added. "Delaware sends a lot of soldiers out to support other states in time of need. We may be the state in need at some point."

Sturek added that the drill was constantly being evaluated by a monitoring team that was not only watching - they also took part and "coached" participants.

Including planning, the drill began Tuesday and will conclude Friday.

Guard units from Pennsylvania and Virginia took part. Representatives of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and other public safety organizations also joined the drill.

"It's a great feeling to see everything come together," Sturek said. "Relationships get built, soldiers get trained, and everyone goes home safe."