Emergency drill provides real-life lessons

Published: Tuesday, April 21 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Staff at Orem's Timpanogos Regional Hospital, CERT volunteers and various agencies run through a disaster drill Monday. The drill tested Utah County's preparedness plans.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

OREM — "We need additional stretchers and wheelchairs at the earthquake site," the voice on the other end of the radio blared.

"Do we have more blankets? We've used up all our blankets," another voice crackled.

Dozens of victims were rolled, wheeled and carried into the Timpanogos Regional Hospital Monday during a mock earthquake drill aimed at evaluating preparedness in Utah County.

"It was managed chaos, just like we expected," said Jan Rogers, Utah County Medical Reserve Corps coordinator.

Some of the exercise went well, while gaps in other areas became apparent.

Like the fact that some areas in the hospital were radio "dead spots" and communication was difficult, Rogers said.

But the community groups all worked together as a team, Rogers said, thanking the Timpanogos Regional Hospital, the Red Cross, the Southern Baptist church, the Utah County Health Department and surrounding cities.

The experience will help fine-tune groups' Emergency Operations Plans, she said.

The exercise was built around the scenario that a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit along the Utah County segment of the Wasatch fault line at 10:45 a.m. Monday, disrupting traffic, damaging buildings, including hospitals, breaking power and water lines, and leaving at least 24 people dead. A train had also derailed near Geneva Road and 800 North, contaminating nearby people with an unknown substance that was leaking from one of the tank cars.

Katherine Craighead, a first-year nursing student, played a disoriented contamination victim who kept asking for her mom.

"(It's helpful) in case a big crowd comes in from a big emergency," she said of the training experience. "You know to stay calm, you know what works, what doesn't."

Most of the burned, broken, contaminated and bleeding victims, like Craighead, were nursing students from Provo College getting clinical hours for participating.

"This is good for them," said nursing faculty member Jennifer Bleyl. "It's a chance to see what really happens (in an emergency). It's not just a textbook. It's hands-on learning."

She said it will also help the future nurses show more empathy to their patients, because they will know what it's like to be injured.

While the tainted victims got hosed and scrubbed down in a decontamination tent, dozens of earthquake victims moaned for help as they lay sprawled on apartment lawns near the hospital.

"It hurts!" one woman screamed as the members of Community Emergency Response Teams rushed onto the scene.

"I need help over here," another victim yelled. Many of the victims were so injured they couldn't yell and relied on alert responders to notice their "situation tags" and respond appropriately.

Katelyn Van Ausdal's screams as a hysterical 8 3/4 months pregnant woman with contractions every four minutes got everyone's attention.

"My baby's coming!" the first-semester nursing student screeched, begging the CERT members to find her a doctor.

A few hours later, she and fellow "pregnant" nursing student Ashlee Tuttle left the hospital with Cabbage Patch dolls and a greater appreciation for emergency response.

"It was good," Tuttle said. "I'd feel safe if I came to have a baby during an earthquake."

But then again, there might not be enough beds for a laboring mother, the first-semester student acknowledged.

So now she wants to focus on being prepared to help people who might not even make it to a hospital.

Nesha Simpson, a second-year nursing student, provided a different type of emergency as she kept rushing into the hospital calling herself a doctor, and tried to get medicine for herself and others.

"I need some morphine," she said. "I just need something right now."

Eventually, hospital personnel discovered her fraud and security officers strapped her to a gurney.

Don Clausen, operations director for the newly formed Stansbury Park CERT group wandered around the wounded not to offer assistance but to take notes and get ideas.

"I see right off the bat they're looking for radios," he said. "Radios are crucial."

CERT teams are made up of community volunteers who pay for training that prepares them to help themselves and neighbors when a disaster strikes.

Clausen knows it's expensive to get all the necessary equipment, which is why he wants to start building their emergency arsenal now, before a disaster.

"We'll learn from their mistakes," he said. "We'll make our own, but not these."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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