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Disaster drill puts Southern Inyo first-responders to test

December 2, 2010

Volunteer EMT and firefighters from Southern Inyo participate in a statewide disaster drill on Nov. 18. The scene near Lone Pine simulated a terrorist attack on an LADWP water filtration system that injured 15. The drill is being called successful by organizers, but the need for more trained volunteers is still great. Photo by Ray Townsend

“A terrorist bomb has torn apart a water filtration facility in Southern Inyo, injuring approximately 15 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees. Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel from Lone Pine and Olancha responded quickly, triaging and transporting every victim from the scene and to medical facilities in Lone Pine in less than 45 minutes.”
This would have been the report dominating the local and regional media, and making national headlines, if the events taking place in Southern Inyo on Thursday, Nov. 18 had been real and not part of a statewide disaster drill.
As it is, the drill is being called a success by coordinators, and a testament to the dedication and tireless training of volunteers to be able to handle a disaster – “if a disaster can be called successful,” said Denise Lauffer, director of nursing at Southern Inyo Hospital and one of the coordinators along with fellow nurse Colleen Wilson.
While the coordinated statewide drill could have been done on paper in an office full of administrators, Southern Inyo decided to go through all the motions, Lauffer said by phone. The drill was performed in real-time and involved more than 50 volunteers, including 15 psuedo-victims with multiple traumas.
She explained the drill was a rare opportunity for multiple agencies and volunteers to come together and practice for a major, multiple-victim incident. An incident of the same magnitude as the mock disaster maybe a rarity in that part of the county, but it is not an impossibility, Lauffer said, and as such, it’s a scenario that personnel should practice and be ready for.
According to Lauffer, the scenario of a terrorist attack on a water facility in Southern Inyo is considered an actual threat by state officials.
Olancha Fire Chief Steve Davis said drills like the Nov. 18 exercise are also a way to introduce new volunteers to how major incidents are handled.
The fire bell rang through Lone Pine at 8 a.m. on that Thursday and volunteer EMTs throughout Southern Inyo were dispatched. Lauffer said Lone Pine was abuzz with ambulances and fire trucks running back and forth from the blast scene on a dirt road near Boulder Creek Lodge to SIH and Toiyabe Indian health Clinic. Nurses performed moulage make-up techniques to give victims realistic and gruesome looking injuries.
Davis said that only he and Lone Pine Fire Chief Le Roy Kritz knew what the scenario would be ahead of time; volunteers only knew there would be a drill.
Davis said he was very impressed by the 45-minute time, considering the location of the scene and volunteers having to respond from such a widespread area. He said the incident command team of himself, Kritz and other veteran firefighters and EMTs was highly coordinated. According to Davis, the incident demonstrated that despite tight budgets and the need for more firefighters and EMTs, a major incident can be handled without problem.
The purpose of the statewide drill, Lauffer said, was to evaluate three elements of local medical first responders: communication, intelligence and management of a medical surge.
Lauffer called it a true community event with so many volunteers participating, the employers who allow them to be volunteers and the 15 DWP employees who used vacation time to be able to the devote their days to the drill.
“It was a great day with a big after-party and a huge cake,” Lauffer said. “It was really special. We proved that we can manage an event like this.”
Lauffer said that despite the success there is still a major need for volunteers. “Right now we’re getting by with the hard work and dedication of the volunteers we have now.”
But, she said that with a limited number of volunteers, burn-out can be a major problem, which can lead to even fewer hands to help. She said she knows the public has been inundated with a call for volunteers, “but we need to keep bringing it up, people need to know we need volunteers.”
To become a volunteer firefighter or EMT, contact a local fire department.

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