Whitehall News

Disaster preparedness

'Injured' were easy to recruit for major exercise

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

People were happy to be hurt -- for a worthwhile reason.

Every three years, Columbus Regional Airport Authority officials are required to hone disaster preparedness with a full-scale emergency exercise at either Port Columbus or Rickenbacker international airports.

This is one of those years, June 20 is the date and it's Rickenbacker's turn.

Finding the necessary 200 to 250 volunteers willing to portray the injured, even if it does mean getting to the airport's main terminal at 7 o'clock on a Saturday morning, was a snap, according to Shaddy Swade, disaster preparedness coordinator for HandsOn Central Ohio.

"We actually had a really good turnout this time," Swade said. "We kind of have learned from past exercises and have figured out where to recruit volunteers."

One ready source of "victims," he said, is nursing students. At least 115 from Columbus State Community College and several from other programs in the area signed up.

"We give every victim a symptom card, and we ask them to play a role, so there's some acting involved," Swade said.

"They will have some instructions about how to act based on the severity of their injuries."

Some of the actors are instructed to go into panic mode, he said, whereas others are to remain calm.

The scenario for the June 20 event involves a flight from Mexico that must make an emergency landing at Rickenbacker, according to Angie Tabor, manager of communications and media relations for the airport authority.

The landing goes bad, she added, and the plane slides into part of the military's property at the former Air Force base.

"It really gives us an opportunity work very closely with the military," Tabor said.

Because the flight is supposed to have originated in Mexico, Swade said some of the injured will receive instructions to act as if they don't speak English, a nod to the growing diversity of central Ohio's population.

The exercise will require emergency personnel and others to handle situations where language is a barrier.

"It's certainly something that I know first-responders have been looking at," Swade said.

The exercise, which is required to maintain the Region-al Airport Authority's operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, boun-ces back and forth every three years between the two major airports, according to Tabor.

Bolton Field, which the airport authority also operates, is exempt from being the scene of such scenarios, she added.

"Three's a huge benefit to holding the full-scale emergency exercise," Tabor said.

"I think it's absolutely critical," Swade said. "No. 1, we never know when something like this might happen or where it might happen," he said.

"Every time we do one of these exercises ... we're constantly trying to look at what are the gaps in these plans and how do we address them. You're always kind of chasing perfection in these situations."

The June 20 event, which will also involve 50 to 60 American Red Cross personnel dealing with people portraying the family members of injured passengers, has been in planning for about six months, according to Swade.

Along with HandsOn Central Ohio and the American Red Cross, the Central Ohio Trauma System and Medical Reserve Corps are helping to put on the event, along with Columbus Regional Airport Authority personnel.

At least six area hospitals and 30 different agencies will be involved that day, Swade said.

The airport authority has budgeted $6,000 for the exercise, according to Tabor.

"It's the cost of doing business," she said.

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