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Emergency Sergvices Agencies Train To Be Ready To Respond

When disaster strikes

Whether it's a family practicing its fire escape drill or an army preparing for war, training can make the difference between tragedy and victory.

To gauge the readiness of its own "troops," the Klickitat County Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care Council conducted a multi-agency "mass casualty incident" drill Sunday afternoon.

The "double whammy" simulation -- which comprised a vehicle-train collision in Bingen and a subsequent bomb explosion at Columbia High School resulting in multiple injuries -- was carried out with the involvement and cooperation of more than a dozen public agencies and private entities.

The list of participants included Skyline ambulance and hospital, local police and fire departments, First Responders from neighboring fire districts, Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, the Columbia Gorge School of Theater and Portland, Ore.-based Life Flight.

On Monday, drill coordinator David Nice called the exercise a success.

"I thought it went very well. It identified areas that we need to work on, and that was the whole purpose of the exercise," he observed.

Nice, director of Skyline Ambulance Service, said the drill was the largest of its kind in Klickitat County in several years. Funding for the exercise was provided by the Southwest Washington Emergency Medical Services Council.

"There have been small ones (drills) during the past 10 years, but nothing as large as this, of this magnitude," he noted. "Our aim was to practice to be prepared for something like this, if and when it happens."

Nice said the simulation was designed to maximize and tax local resources, foster interagency cooperation in the face of a crisis, and force people to think outside their traditional roles and responsibilities.

"One of the lessons we learned is that a situation like this can be overwhelming, no matter how much planning you put into it," he noted.

"During our critique afterward, the general consensus was that, even with all the people we had involved, we still didn't have enough resources to adequately deal with all the injured we had."

Moreover, as in the case of any evolving catastrophe, figuring out who's in charge and directing communications between incident commanders and field personnel proved to be a challenge, Nice continued.

"Those are typically the two biggest issues -- structure and communications -- that you run into in a big disaster event like this," he explained.

But, in the final analysis, Nice remarked, the exercise demonstrated that the county's emergency response system works.

In particular, he singled out dispatchers in the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office for kudos. "We work with those folks on a regular basis, so you kind of take that cooperation for granted. But that part of it (dispatch) went really well."

Overall, Nice said, emergency personnel who took part in the drill went away feeling it was a positive, worthwhile experience.

"It stimulated people, and that was part of the idea too: to get people interested in practicing and training," he said.

Nice added that more exercises probably will be staged in the future, but on a much smaller scale.

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