Saturday, September 24, 2005

225 Casualties Reported at CVG

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10 DOA, 3 more died on the scene. 145 critical patients; 20 slightly injured; 47 seriously injured. Was it a terrorist? An accident? I'm not sure. The only thing I am sure of, is that it was just practice.

Ever wonder how your local emergency management organizations plan for disasters like hurricanes, tornados, major fires or plane crashes? THEY PRACTICE. Just like a football team, fire departments, police departments, hospitals, and the Red Cross have to practice for the big game too. But instead of a notch in the "W" column, we play for life or death.

The FAA requires every major airport to undergo a full scale disaster drill every three years. They are planned out for months- down the the smallest detail, in the hopes that enough practice will result in a near-perfect execution in the event of a real disaster. For this simulated disaster, a plane full of 225 people crashed at the Cincinnati Airport and caught on fire.

When the call first goes out, the Airport Fire Department are the first responders. They assess the situation and call in additional assistance. Because drills are "perfect world" situations, fire trucks, ambulances, and Red Cross medical teams are already prepositioned at the airport for immediate response. We don't all show up at once- it is somewhat timed out, but it's not exactly real-time.

The victims are all volunteers who have been made up to look like they were injured in the crash. Trust me- the makeup jobs are quite realistic. If you get the right volunteer, combined with great moulage (that's what you call the gory makeup applied to the victims), you get a fairly realistic victim. They are initially "rescued" from the crash and triaged by the first responders. They are tagged with tickets which identify the victims as either white, green, yellow, red or black. White means uninjured. Green is considered "walking wounded". Yellow is seriously injured. Red is a life-threatening injury, and black... is deceased.
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Notice the tag hanging from her foot, showing she has been coded as a yellow victim.

Triage areas are set up to categorize patient by their color tags- white, green, yellow, red and black. A team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and mental health workers are assigned to each area. The triage doctors prioritize victims within their areas, and coordinate their transportation to local hospitals. Once loaded in the ambulances, the Routing Officer decides which hospital should recieve the patients. Each patient is logged so that they can be tracked once they arrive at the hospitals. Equal distribution of critical cases between the hospitals is a high priority.

Even though the Airport Drill is a huge undertaking, it focuses on just a small part of a disaster response. It focuses on the intial response and the transportation of victims to hospitals. Why? Because that magical first hour of care can mean life or death to victims of real disasters. We practice to get it right, so that more people can survive.

Not all drills are full-scale drills like this one. Some are table-top discussions. Perhaps if Mayor Nagin would have participated in a table-top drill simulating a hurricane hitting New Orleans, he would have been better prepared to respond to Katrina. Live and learn, Mayor. But you gotta practice, practice, practice!


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