The Surveyor does…emergency management training
By Amber McIver-Traywick
On June 5 I was hit by a speeding car that intentionally plowed through the crowd of people I was in while leaving a graduation ceremony at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. I had severe chest pain, it was hard to breath, and I got very dizzy when I tried to stand up and walk. Thankfully, this horrifying scenario, injuries and symptoms were simply made-up and randomly assigned to me as a volunteer participant in a recent exercise for Larimer County and surrounding area first responders.
The exercise, coordinated by the Larimer County Office of Emergency Management along with over 28 other organizations including Berthoud Fire Protection District, Thompson Valley EMS, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Banner Health, and dozens of community volunteers joined together to improve and be prepared in case of a real-life emergency of this magnitude. Michelle Bird, a public-affairs manager with Larimer County said the event, “…was intended to test northern Colorado’s first responder’s arrangements for preparing for, and responding to, a multi-location, multi-victim incident. We expected to use this opportunity to identify areas of strength and reveal opportunities for improvement.”
The day started at 6:30 a.m. in the gym at Mountain View High School where I was greeted by very friendly Red Cross volunteers who were handing out breakfast pastries and my life blood, coffee. I checked in with the Larimer County representatives, got my name badge that would be scanned and tracked throughout the day, tracking my progress through the exercise.
The pamphlet of information we were handed included the scenarios that would be playing out that day. The first group of volunteers were caught up in a riot outside of the Justice Center in Fort Collins. The second group, that I was a part of, were as I mentioned, attacked by someone driving a car through a crowd – and it wasn’t even a farmers’ market.
We were then driven by school bus to The Ranch, Larimer County Fairgrounds and Events Complex where we were given more coffee and assigned our injuries. Paramedics applied makeup called moulage, which is the technical term for applying makeup of mock injuries for the purpose of emergency response, medical or military personnel training, to each participant. We were given a card to wear around our neck that had our vitals and the symptoms we would exhibit for the first responders, and eventually hospital staff, to manage.
We were instructed to act like we had just experienced this event and behave as though our injuries were real. I hadn’t planned on acting that day but I did end up actually lightheaded from my “shortness of breath” performance while I crawled across the sidewalk as the first responders arrived on the scene.
Although the general mood throughout the exercise was fun and lighthearted, the coordinators were extremely friendly and accommodating, the importance of, and the fact exercises like this are even needed in the world we live in was a somber thought running in the back of my mind.
Berthoud Fire Protection District’s Chief Stephen Charles, who participated in the exercise said, “The benefits of an exercise of this magnitude, is the opportunity to exercise our emergency preparedness and response plans, and test our ability to communicate effectively.” Watching the teams coordinate and sift through the chaos, answer panicked questions and requests for help all while organizing people into groups of the uninjured to aiding those who would be critical, only increased my admiration for first responders.
The next stop for all the volunteers were various hospitals. I was taken to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies Emergency Room where I got rolled in on a gurney and labeled with a triage tag that indicated the severity of my injuries, which determined which part of the ER I would be taken to. Doctors and nurses came in and asked questions, and a course of action for my injuries was planned. My fake injuries got me a chest tube to help a collapsed lung and x-rays.
We were finally transported back to the high school where the Red Cross was set up like a real-life reunification center. Volunteers took our names and contact information and marked us as safe on their website. A major concern for first responders in mass-casualty scenarios is reuniting victims with their friends and loved ones. I was assigned three “family members” who I had to try and find by contacting the local hospitals to which we were transferred or at the reunification center. Unfortunately, I never found my fake family. Bird said part of what made this exercise unique was the reunification component, “While agencies regularly participate in emergency-response exercises, most agencies had not been involved in a training of this size that included the reunification. The best thing to come out of this exercise was to establish a baseline for agencies to use for improvement.”
Though the exercise was a fun and interesting experience, it certainly raised questions in my mind about how I should respond in an emergency situation. Much like the organizations that participated in the exercise, you hope a situation like this never happens, but if it does it’s much better to be as prepared as possible. For more information about emergency preparedness and how to keep you and your family safe, visit larimer.org/health/emergency-preparedness-and-response/emergency-preparedness.
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