Mock disaster drill puts emergency crews to test

FOLLANSBEE – Hollywood would have been proud of the drama students who played victims in a mock disaster Saturday that involved an active shooter and tanker explosion at Koppers and subsequent decontamination at Weirton Medical Center.

The mock disaster had all the drama of a Lifetime channel movie – domestic violence, children on a field trip, a shooting and tanker truck explosion.

But the drill served as a way for a lot of public service agencies and a hospital to do a reality check on just how good their procedures are in responding to a disaster, fake or otherwise.

The scenario showed a father who had a domestic violence protection order from his wife who tries to attend a Follansbee Middle School field trip at Koppers. The school bus stops at a tanker truck, while the father is denied access at the Koppers’ gate. The father shoots a security guard, who is wounded, and continues toward the bus. More shots ring out, with the wife being shot, and a bullet hits the tanker causing it to explode. Most of the students are off the bus when the explosion occurs. A plant worker calls 911 and fire and emergency medical personnel are dispatched to the scene. The father is killed in the explosion.

The emergency medical personnel encounter 15 patients, who are loaded onto ambulances. Then a determination is made the tanker’s placard is wrong and the material is not deadly. But the patients still have to go through decontamination before entering Weirton Medical Center.

Bob Fowler, Brooke County Emergency Management Agency director, said all the patients were transported off scene within 45 minutes.

One problem was discovered during the drill in that the mass care trailer wasn’t immediately deployed. He said the mass care trailer will be sent to a scene regardless in the future and it can return if not needed.

“The communications went well. The decontamination went well. Everyone did very well,” he said.

Fowler said mock disaster drills are a several-step process, from training, to table-top exercises to the actual drill.

“This is something we should be doing once or twice a year on a regular basis,” he said.

Weirton Medical Center emergency room workers knew a drill was coming but didn’t know the scenario, even though a decontamination tent had already been erected at the rear of the hospital.

Members of the Colliers Volunteer Fire Department did the actual decontamination. Fowler said the fire department is called to do that job because emergency room workers can be overwhelmed with treating patients.

Kelli McCoy, hospital director of communications, said the mock disaster tested a variety of hospital workers, including security, doctors, emergency room staff, trauma team and support staff.

Hospital workers train annually and sometimes more often depending on the influx of new staff.

Mary Vandine, emergency room director, said the patients were unloaded from an ambulance and taken through the decontamination tent, where their clothes were cut off and the patient’s bodies sprayed down to remove contanimants.

Vandine said public service personnel at the scene called the hospital to give emergency room staff the number from the placard of the tanker truck that exploded. The hospital staff then looked up the placard number in a hazardous material handbook to determine what decontamination procedures should be followed, she said. The patients were then taken to the emergency room for a more in-depth evaluation and a determination of the patients’ injuries.

Donna Kittridge, WMC director of support services, said the drill tested a lot of layers of the hospital staff.

Vandine said the staff will now sit down and do an evaluation of how well the hospital staff responded. Kittridge said recommendations will be made for improvements.

“If we don’t do practices, we run the risk of inexperience. When we do the drills, it can only make us better at responding,” McCoy said.

Students from the West Liberty University drama department participated in the drill and spent about $500 on the makeup to make their injuries look real.

Fowler said the drama students did an outstanding job from the makeup to the way they acted.

“They were upset, their friends were hurt,” he said.