The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

June 10, 2013

Preparing for the worst case scenario

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — The images were frighteningly similar to those which have appeared on the news far too often during the past few weeks, after a tornado touched down Thursday at the YMCA in Greenville, toppling a school bus and causing multiple fatalities and dozens of injuries.

First responders rushed to provide assistance, as they coordinated their efforts amongst themselves and medical professionals.

Then, the situation got even worse.

Fortunately, unlike the recent tragedies in Oklahoma and elsewhere in Texas, it was just a drill, designed to test just how prepared Hunt County’s first responders are to deal with the real thing, according to Brett Freeman, emergency management coordinator with Hunt Regional Healthcare.

“With all the current events ... you never know,” Freeman said.

Hunt Regional Healthcare joined with area fire departments, paramedics with American Medical Response, local amateur radio operators, the YMCA, Senior Center Resources and Public Transit and the Greenville Independent School District to conduct a mass casualty emergency preparedness exercise. The event began at around 8 a.m., as organizers gathered in the YMCA’s gymnasium and applied simulated injuries to the volunteer “victims.”

Freeman said the exercise itself went as well as could be expected.

“There were a few kinks,” Freeman said. “Our communications were good.”

Under the conditions of the drill, a tornado struck at noon Thursday at the YMCA during a “Healthy Kids Day” event. Units and personnel from the Greenville, Caddo Mills, Cash, Celeste, Commerce and Quinlan fire departments responded to the location or provided communications assistance and discovered the simulated twister had knocked over a school bus.

An initial assessment revealed more than 30 injured patients, with about a dozen of them in critical condition. Five individuals were listed as “deceased” at the scene.

Even as firefighters and paramedics began removing the ambulatory patients from the bus to assess the extent of the injuries, there came a second call. A wing of the YMCA itself had collapsed and explosions were reported to have occurred inside the building.

Patients were transported by ambulances, “The Connection” vans and private vehicles to Hunt Regional Healthcare hospital, where a mass casualty operation had been established.

“We had our mobile hospital set up,” Freeman said, adding it is the same procedure which would be utilized in the event the local hospital had to be evacuated. “We had four big Western Shelter tents.”

Inside the tents, hospital personnel performed triage on the patients, to determine the extent of their simulated injuries.

“To see, if we had the real situation, would they be transported or would they be admitted here,” Freeman said.

Units from both Air Evac 67 and PHI Air Medical from McKinney were on hand, as was a multi-patient “ambus” from the Sherman Fire Department.

The exercise ended at 3 p.m. Thursday, after which officials assessed the effectiveness of the response.

Freeman said the “hazard value analysis” drill was helpful in teaching hospital personnel how to deal with specific threat situations.

“Weather being a big one, obviously,” Freeman said. “We’ll hopefully try and do these kinds of drills at least once and maybe twice a year.”