Bath Mock Disaster calls for managing Toxins as well as Triage
Fact-Checking, IOP, EOC, logistics chief, hot zone, all are part of the language of emergency response. Fortunately for all of us there are teams of local emergency services volunteers and professionals practicing with an imitation disaster before one happens. In a practice run, held Wednesday in Hot Springs, an individual placed an IED, or improvised explosive device, with chemicals, in a trashcan inside a large local resort. There are two explosions and the water supply is contaminated. After thinking they must immediately respond to the explosions, drill participants realize they need to address victims of exposure to toxic chemicals as well. First responders are seeing symptoms in people from the site beginning with headaches and shortness of breath to vomiting and seizures. There is a rough estimate as many as fifty people may be affected. Some victims walk to the hospital, and other arrive by rescue squad. The hospital had to divide treatment areas into zones to keep contamination from spreading.
As the seriousness of the incident became clearer, Virginia Department of Health, the Department Environmental Quality, and the Department of Emergency Services, all become involved. Drill participants from county emergency services, law enforcement, local health department, hospital staff and county administration are challenged to quickly identify what resources they need, and how to access them. On the site many victims will need basic, and others will need advanced, life support. Law enforcement will continue following up with the suspect of the crime, and may receive new leads. Later, drill facilitators complimented hospital staff on their patient assessments.
I asked Jennifer Smith, dispatcher at the Bath County Sheriff’s office what she had learned from participating in the drill.
“You really need to know your resources, and utilize them at an early point in a disaster. And as far as everyday skills, you know, just answering the call, whenever that may be from a radio or a phone. I mean you just have to do it, and do it to the best of your ability.”
I also spoke to one of the main people who designed and facilitated the drill.
“My name is Miles Bartos. I’m an on-scene coordinator for EPA in Region III, in Environmental Protection Agency. We helped design this on-scene multi agency hazard response using the Homestead as a backdrop.” Miles looked on and listened to questions from local emergency personnel as they walked through, or arrived on a stretcher, in the mock disaster.
“The goal really is to assess, and test the capabilities and communications of the various agencies. I’m very happy to say they came through with flying colors, They have excellent hazard recognition, hazard communication and coordination with the other resources, both in the locality and outside the locality with all the resources that are available to them, outside hospitals, state agencies, federal agencies, and of course with the hospital too. They were able to coordinate patient resources and identification of hazards, and communicate everything back.”
“Back” means back to the EOC, or Emergency Operations Center. That central base is critical to serving the public, and helping as many people as possible survive any disaster. A big Thank You goes out to all who participated in this local drill, and ongoing appreciation for them year round as they keep our communities safe.