3-day exercise prepares responders for major emergencies in Calif.The multiagency disaster drill involved 950 first responders who practiced their skills during a 36-hour simulated disaster, which included everything from burning cars to victims trapped in buildings
By Kim Lamb Gregory
The Ventura County Star
VENTURA, Calif. — Firefighters milled around a car crushed against a toppled bus. Mary Looby of Ventura sat motionless in the back of the car, her forehead resting on the frontseat headrest.
'I have lacerations on my arm and my leg and a dead husband,' Looby said, motioning to a dummy in the front seat smeared with stage blood.
Looby was one of about 200 volunteer 'victims' who summoned their inner drama queens to participate in the third day of Operation Medical Shelter 2011.
The multiagency disaster drill involved 950 first responders who practiced their skills during a 36-hour simulated disaster, which included everything from burning cars to victims trapped in buildings. The drill involved state, federal, city and county agencies, including firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers, as well as staff from every hospital in Ventura County, Ventura County Public Health, the military, animal services and the American Red Cross.
'As far as a multiagency disaster drill with all of us working side by side, it's like a benchmark,' said Col. Nancy Sumner of the Air National Guard.
Funded through state public health emergency preparedness grants, the program was prompted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control grants allowed public health centers across the country to buy supplies and update equipment to be prepared in case of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other large scale emergency that would overwhelm hospitals. The drill took place inside a three-day effort that began Monday with the setting up of a tent city at Freedom Park in Camarillo.
'I learned that tents are very hard to put up and take down,' said Los Robles Regional Medical Center emergency room physician Dr. Michael Kirk, when asked Wednesday what he learned during the drill.
On Tuesday, the drill began with 40-plus classes held all day in tents. There were also hands-on demonstrations, such as a rescue operation involving a helicopter from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
The deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Richard Serino, spoke to the group and attended some of the classes. Serino said he had seen disaster drills in other states, but nothing this diverse.
'It's really unique to see so many different agencies working together from hospitals to ... a bomb squad,' he said.
Wednesday was showtime for the responders and private citizens who agreed to be victims.
Firefighters set up several scenarios in an open field near Las Posas Road where firefighters often train.
There were car fires, wreckedbuildings, and people trapped in cars and structures.
It was set up to mimic the types of crises that occur during an earthquake, said Diane Dobbins, program manager of the Emergency Preparedness Office at Ventura County Public Health Department.
"There was a 7.0 earthquake that hit Ventura County today," Dobbins said, explaining the scenario. "The first responders showed up not knowing what they would be responding to."
Volunteers who often do makeup in Hollywood spent hours doing stage makeup or "moulage."
Moulage team member Chris Gordon's hands were stained and his fingernails were encrusted with stage blood as he created open wounds, lacerations and swaths of scraped skin on volunteer victims.
Each victimhad a list of symptoms banded to his or her arm. Sometimes an attitude was included.
"What the hell took you so long to get us out of here!" bellowed victim volunteer Logan Weaver of Camarillo as firefighters helped him out of a debris- filled house.
Weaver was instructed to be belligerent, he explained, to give firefighters a chance to exercise patience.
"We laugh about this, but this is realistic," said Bill Nash, public information officer for the Ventura County Fire Department. "You have to figure out who has the most serious injuries. Sometimes, that means walking past somebody who is screaming bloody murder."
A triage area was set up on the grass with a red tarp where the most serious victims lay, and a black tarp was for the "deceased." Victims on the yellow tarp were those whose treatment could be delayed and those on a green tarp were walking wounded.
The most serious victims were transferred by ambulance to the ambulance tents, where hospital staff treated the "wounded" after helping them onto cots.
Bryan Schaffer, 24, of Santa Paula said his role was to stay quietly trapped on the bottom floor of a fire department training tower. "My legs, I couldn't move. I was unconscious," Schaffer said, describing the condition he was acting out.
A 10-pound mixed-breed dog named Widget was among the animal victims.
Ventura County Animal Services was on hand to rehearse caring for animals whose owners refuse to leave home without them.
"I'm not going to leave my pet behind in any disaster," said Yolanda Tibbet, Widget's owner.
A C-130 aircraft outfitted with cots and hospital supplies also was nearby to rehearse transporting seriously injured victims to hospitals in other counties - one more reality in case of a real earthquake.
"We know the big one's going to come," Dobbins said. "We want to be as prepared as we can be."
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