Mock disaster carries believabilityPublished 5:47pm Thursday, April 26, 2012
Back in my high school days, I had a soccer coach that was particularly fond of using an old Vince Lombardi quote.
If he suspected us of not giving our full effort at practice, he would always yell at us and say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
This quote has stuck with me since then and came to mind yesterday while I was covering the county’s mock disaster drill.
I didn’t know quite what to expect.
I had visited the newly organized Emergency Operation Center at CACC the day before, but the entire room had come to life on Wednesday morning. Phones were ringing. Papers and folders were spread out on the individual stations, and displayed onto the TVs and projector screen was up-to-the-minute information.
While it lacked the particular air of tension that would be present in a real-life disaster response, I was struck with just how serious the participants were.
I sat in the media section, eyes fixed on the projected path of the simulated storm. And as the damage reports came in, the screen reflected it. The flow of information was seamless. When the police heard from one of their cars that a phone line was down or the sheriff fielded a call with reports of injuries or entrapment, everyone in the room knew about it. That meant Alabama Power immediately knew where to direct their mitigation efforts, and it mean fire and EMS personnel knew where to direct rescue attempts.
The level of verisimilitude was even higher once I responded to Wind Creek State Park. As I raced down Hwy. 63 toward Hwy. 128, I was on the tail of two ambulances. The sirens wailed as our convoy made its way toward the park, and to the passers-by and all the cars that pulled off the roadway to yield to the ambulances the difference between training exercise and real response was indistinguishable.
As I turned onto Hodnett Drive, the whop-whop-whop-whop of a rescue chopper could be heard as it flew overhead. I parked my car near a bathhouse, some 30 feet from a collection of parked emergency vehicles.
I approached on foot to an area that had reports of downed power lines.
Green leaves and tree branches were scattered about. And there, lying across the road was a huge tree and a real power line.
I stayed at the park for about an hour, observing the response. I watched as firefighters took backboards and loaded up the faux-victims, hauling them up the embankment of the steep hillside and loading them into an ambulance. Some of the victims were simulating unresponsive patients, while others, such as one girl whose name I never learned, wailed and cried aloud.
When I returned to the EOC, I watched as a random spectator in the EOC was called upon to fake a heart attack, a performance that was so good, it actually caused the whole room to fall silent as people in the front row were unsure if the event was staged or not.
Anything can happen in a disaster response – routine calls can turn from bad to worst in the blink of an eye. And after seeing how all of our emergency responders reacted to each curve ball that was thrown their way, I am reminded that we will never be able to control the weather, but we can be prepared to respond to it.
Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.