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Rain, lightning 'stretch' rescue workers at mock disaster drill

May 11, 2003|by BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

Stormy weather added to the realism of Saturday's disaster drill involving Franklin County, Pa., emergency responders.

The drill started early because of lightning, and rescue personnel worked over the "victims" in the pouring rain.

Jerry Flasher, director of Franklin County Emergency Services, said the drill was intended to "stretch" the responders, and "the weather stretched us even more." Flasher said his staff and Summit Health employees have been planning the drill since last November.

Jill Keller, manager of the Emergency Department at Waynesboro Hospital and one of the coordinators for the drill, explained the scenario behind the mock disaster:

Two terrorists transporting explosives in a station wagon were involved in a crash with another car. Their explosives detonated shortly after the crash. Many bystanders were injured because they had approached the crash site before the explosion.

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Ambulances from Mont Alto, Waynesboro, Blue Ridge Summit, Mercersburg, Marion and Greencastle responded to the mock emergency, which was staged at Mowery Elementary School in Quincy.

Except for the lack of sirens, the scene appeared very realistic. The only nonhuman "victim" was a dummy, representing one of the terrorists, pinned under the station wagon. Firefighters worked at the scene in full gear, including air tanks. Injuries, blood and distress of the victims were convincing.

The wounded were transported to Chambersburg and Waynesboro Hospitals, with each hospital receiving about 20 patients. The victims were triaged, then taken to the emergency room or the walk-in wounded area, Keller said.

Each hospital activated its Code Orange disaster plan, implementing procedures to treat numerous disaster victims.

The mock terrorist incident was one of three related drills in the county. Another took place outside Letterkenny Army Depot and one was inside the fence at Letterkenny and involved federal resources, including the National Guard.

Disaster drills are conducted annually, although the seriousness and the magnitude vary, Flasher said.

"This year, we opted to stretch our resources countywide," he said. "We have a multitude of participants. Each company can exercise its own plans to meet its training needs."

The Letterkenny drill involved chemical contamination, but "we elected not to do contamination here because our last drill had it, and our hospital has done three," Keller said. "We focused on the incident, and on communication, using new radios."

Franklin County Commissioners G. Warren Elliott and Cheryl Plummer watched the drill. Plummer said she was pleased to see the efforts of the Department of Emergency Services in putting together the exercise.

Elliott said that having more than one incident at the same time was a good strategy.

"We might have two incidents like this, and we have to be prepared," he said.

Some results of the drill will not be made available to the public because of security concerns, Flasher said.

"These plans would be used in an actual homeland security issue," he said.

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