Written by Jaimee Green
You know the drill. Or do you?
That was the question on the minds of emergency responders and incident command team leaders as they relied on their training, plans and protocols during a mock tornado drill in downtown Wolf Point June 13.
Although the weather was calm and clear, far from tornado weather, that didn’t stop more than 350 people from converging onto the downtown area as if a Moore-scale disaster had struck. This was all part of a year-long emergency response planning exercise dubbed “Summer Fury.”During the roughly two-hour drill, responders were put to the test as they tried to rescue and recover “victims,” communicate and mitigate the natural disaster. Thirty-two “victims,” complete with fake blood, were scattered in and around the Wadopana pow-wow grounds with injuries ranging from massive cuts to impaled objects.
In addition to giving agencies on-the-job training, the simulation had another benefit. It allowed them to practice working together with many different entities under stressful conditions with evaluators critiquing their actions.
“In any disaster, mock or real, communication is absolutely critical,” said Sharon Dschaak, safety coordinator for Northeast Montana Health Services. “In a real disaster event, so many agencies are involved that a coordinated effort helps ensure success. Working through a staged disaster tests our emergency response plan and that of everyone who is involved to ensure we are better prepared,” she added.
Adding to the sense of cooperation was the presence of representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, State Disaster and Emergency Services Agency, in Helena, and area counties, including Sheridan, Richland, McCone and Valley counties.
“Emergency response personnel were put to the test during this exercise and I think they rose to the occasion. These important exercises allow us to all work together and sharpen our skills in a realistic environment,” said Dan Sietsema, Roosevelt County disaster and emergency services coordinator.
Staff of Northeast Montana Health Services was put to the test with their ambulance services responding to 20 emergency calls with the assistance of ambulances and personnel from
Culbertson and Scobey. The hospital’s patient numbers quickly swelled beyond their surge capacity and assistance was requested from Indian Health Services and other area hospitals through the use of maintained mutual agreements.
“As we went through this process of the mock disaster, we identified some enhancements to our existing plan. These kinds of items can only be discovered through simulating an actual disaster experience, which is why this exercise was so important. We’re constantly revising and enhancing our plans to make sure they will work seamlessly so that we are fully prepared in the event of a real disaster. Safety and security are always are primary objectives,” Sietsema said.
The day may have started out with staged chaos and fake blood, but it ended successfully with a debriefing session at the Roosevelt County Aging Services Department where participants enjoyed a meal together while recapping the day. A representative from each department had an opportunity to come up and report on what went well in the exercise while identifying where there is room for improvement. Nearly every agency identified communication and the use of the correct radio frequencies as an area where improvement is needed.
Sietsema said the debriefing will continue in depth for several months with a final report being completed sometime next year.
“The number of participants we were able to have for this exercise was phenomenal. Without question, the drill has better prepared us for future disasters. The more we train, the more effective we can be when people’s lives are truly at stake,” Dschaak said.