Preparedness & Recovery

Casualty Drill Means Readying for the Unthinkable

'You can't assume he's dead. They are still a possible threat. That's why we handcuffed him.'

by Lisa Trigg, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind. / April 13, 2018

(TNS) - Running past the wounded crying out for help, a team of police officers made sure an active shooter was was no longer a threat. Only then did they start giving other assistance at a mass casualty drill on Thursday morning.

“You can't assume he's dead,” said Officer Michael Eldred of the Indiana State University Police. “They are still a possible threat. That's why we handcuffed him. Then, once the shooter is secured and we make sure there were no other active shooters, we try to lend any assistance we can.”

Blood, wounds and weapons -- all fake -- added to the chaotic scene in a parking lot near the Landsbaum Center on the campus of Union Hospital.

Teams from both Regional and Union hospitals participated in the drill, along with Air Evac, IU Health Lifeline personnel, staff of the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative Simulation Center, and other agencies.

Students from ISU and Ivy Tech Community College portrayed the wounded, with realistic looking wounds and an abundance of fake blood.

Coordinating was the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency.

“Law enforcement did a phenomenal job today,” said Dr. Dorene Hojnicki, Vigo EMA director, as she assessed the activity. “They really got in there and went to the shooter.”

The training was provided by the West Central Indiana Area Health Education Center to better prepare local health professionals and emergency medical personnel how to respond to a traumatic community event.

The drill was part of the District 7 Trauma Symposium for the counties of Vermillion, Parke, Putnam, Clay, Vigo, Owen, Sullivan and Greene.

“Our goal is to respond to a mass casualty situation, and later debrief on what we did and can do better,” AHEC director Jackie Mathis said.

In rural counties, responders to a mass casualty event – tornado, bombing, bus crash or building collapse, for example – will need to assess the wounded and determine where a patient should be sent for treatment.

“We want to educate the providers on where to go, what each facility is capable of handling,” Mathis said.

Both Regional and Union hospitals are certified as trauma centers, Mathis pointed out, but at different levels with different capabilities.

“The goal is to get the right patient to the right hospital at the right time,” said Dr. Christian Toevs, surgeon at Regional Hospital. “We are not in competition during these types of events.”

A simulation is an opportunity for the medical community to work together and assess itself, she said.

“People who generally don't work together on a daily basis get to see what others are doing and how to communicate and practice coordinating in that environment,” Toevs said.

As the drill moved into full action, evacuating the wounded was a priority. Ambulances pulled up and the volunteers worked together to load patients for a trip to mobile treatment tents set up nearby for the drill.

Vigo Schools Supt. Danny Tanoos and Tom Balitewicz, director of student services, observed and assisted.

“We want to see how the simulation works first hand,” Balitewicz said amid the early chaos.

While Vigo Schools have not dealt with an active shooter, a gunman and bomb hoax at North Vigo High School in April 2017 tested some of the procedures in place.

Local school leaders watched as the “injured” were moved to either green tarps for the “walking wounded,” yellow tarps for the more serious patients, and red tarps for the critically injured.

Assistant EMA director J.D. Kesler said another part of the drill is for responders to learn how to handle people experiencing emotional distress from the traumatic event, and how to treat the dead with dignity by covering their bodies until they can be removed.

On Wednesday evening, some advanced preparation allowed for setup of a tent equipped with cots, lights, heat or air conditioning, and oxygen.

It takes about an hour to set up the tent, which is stored in an Area 7 mobile unit provided by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

The mobile “hospital” is particularly useful for mass casualties, and creates a safer space for treatment until victims can be transported from the scene.

Vigo EMA also has a mass casualty trailer outfitted with medical equipment, lights, generators, trauma bags and other items that will be taken to an emergency incident scene.

At the end of the drill, the participants shared their successes, frustrations and debriefed on the experience. All in hopes of never having to use such skills, but better prepared because of the training.

“We get the experience of learning what to set up first and seeing how other groups operate,” Kesler said. “This reinforces in us what we need to be teaching when we do drills and training.”

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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