Drills help city prepare for worst

Simulated attacks, crises at Ravens Stadium test mettle of response crews

July 14, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Debra Henry, 44, got the bad news yesterday in an emergency surgical tent in downtown Baltimore. "I'm sorry, ma'am," said Lt. Col. Craig R. Ruder, an Air Force trauma surgeon. "You're going to lose your leg."

Henry, an employee at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, took it well, considering she was perfectly healthy. "I'm loving it," she said with a giggle. "This is great."

Henry was one of more than 200 volunteers who gathered at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to play the very serious roles of victims in what was likely one of the largest disaster-training exercises ever held at a major hospital center.

Called "Free State Response 2002," the four-hour drill was designed to provide vital training and experience for the agencies and personnel who would respond in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack in downtown Baltimore - one made so frighteningly plausible by the events of Sept. 11.

"It's going to happen someplace, sometime, and very likely in our neighborhood," said Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief of Shock Trauma. "It makes sense that we know what we're doing."

Dr. Brian Browne, chief of emergency medicine at the medical center, said previous exercises ended when emergency personnel arrived at the hospital with their equipment. That's where this one really began.

"Now we need to mobilize the responses of the hospital to respond to the surge in demand," he said. "It's training on a massive scale."

The drill enacted the response to a terrorist incident at Ravens Stadium, just before a Sunday football game. It simulated the release of toxic gas in a parking lot where fans were partying, compounded by the subsequent detonation of a bomb in a parked motor home.

The result was a stream of walking wounded who made their way to the nearby medical center. Many sported stage blood and rubber wounds. Some enhanced the effects with screaming and mock faints.

Sam Fletcher, 28, of Laurel had the role of a 30-year-old man suffering from shortness of breath and "copious oral secretions." His instructions called on him to make "wet, gurgling breath sounds" when he reached the triage area.

"I don't know if I can manage that," he said. "Steven Spielberg isn't going to come knocking on my door."

The exercise wove together the resources of the medical center and Shock Trauma with the Air Force Medical Services, the Maryland and Delaware Air National Guards, the Baltimore fire and police departments and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. Together, they turned the streets and alleys around the hospital into a remarkably realistic mass-casualty decontamination, triage and treatment center.

Arriving "victims" were instructed to remove contaminated clothing and walk through an enormous shower, courtesy of Truck 21 of the Baltimore Fire Department. (Because it was a drill, most chose to bypass the icy deluge.)

In a nearby decontamination tent, personnel in plastic suits and breathing gear stripped them (to bathing suits) and scrubbed them with warm water and decontamination agents (soap for the drill).

Medical personnel next separated the major trauma cases from minor ones, from pediatric and psychiatric cases. Victims were parceled out accordingly to various sites in the hospital complex, or to Veterans Affairs Medical Center next door.

The trauma cases, including Henry and her "crushed" leg, went to a 33-foot-long Air Force surgical tent.

Erected on West Redwood Street in less than two hours, it provided space for trauma surgeons to stabilize seriously injured patients before sending them on for additional care.

In yesterday's drill, Air Guard doctors - some of them private physicians inexperienced in trauma cases - were guided and prodded through their mock surgeries by Dr. Jeffery Johnson. He is an Air Force trauma surgeon who is part of the C-STARS program at Shock Trauma, which provides military physicians with trauma experience.

"I'm here to make sure the patients flow through here, to make sure they [the physicians] recognize their injuries and keep in mind that there is only so much they can do in a tent," Johnson said.

Trying to solve too much is a common mistake, he said. "We commit too many resources to people who are going to die of their wounds, when we could have treated three or four salvageable patients."

In the afternoon, an "overflow" of serious trauma cases - portrayed by 32 Air Force mannequins dressed in camouflage fatigues - were transported in eight Humvees to Martin State Airport and flown out aboard a C-130J medical evacuation aircraft operated by the 135th Airlift Group of the Maryland Air National Guard.

In a parallel exercise, about 450 Baltimore football fans showed up at Ravens Stadium to help stadium managers practice moving crowds to safety in the event of violent weather or some other emergency.

"It's a way of showing my support," said Eric Moore, 20, a Ravens fan from Baltimore. "If this helps them make it a safe environment for me and all of Baltimore, then it would be great."

The crowd cleared Section 501 in the top deck of the grandstands and walked to shelter in the 300-level clubhouse in eight minutes. They evacuated the stadium in 13 minutes.

Things might not have gone so smoothly in a real emergency, acknowledged Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens' senior director of facilities. But he was pleased. "I think it went well," he said. "We're as prepared as we can be at be this point."

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