Area agencies participate in disaster drill

Mock rail explosion tests local emergency response

August 15, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

They were sprawled out all over the place, these human casualties of disaster.

The local train that carried them had been rocked by an early-morning explosion, and the victims were everywhere - lying on the grass, the street and the curbs - as they waited in front of the Hunt Valley light rail station for emergency medical treatment.

But the dozens people laid out yesterday near Shawan and York roads were not injured. They were volunteers participating in an emergency drill intended to help Baltimore County prepare for a mass-casualty disaster.

The exercise, organized by the county's Office of Emergency Management, began about 8 a.m. yesterday with a mock explosion in a Maryland Transit Administration light rail car.

The drill simulated the types of injuries that would result from a bombing: severe burns, seared lungs and broken bones. About 120 volunteers posing as victims, four local hospitals, county police, the Red Cross and a number of fire departments from across the region took part.

Since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, Baltimore County officials have conducted several drills to determine how well public and private agencies work together during an emergency, said Richard G. Muth, director of the county's office of emergency management.

"The main reason [to run a disaster drill] is to identify the problems ... the areas of concern in our plan," said Muth. "You really have to apply it to see if it works."

That means testing a variety of scenarios at various locations and times.

Last year's emergency drill, held in May at the Old Court Metro station in Pikesville, simulated the collision of a large truck with a subway train to determine how local agencies would deal with mass casualties at night.

According to county officials, this year's drill at the Hunt Valley light rail station was designed to test various agencies' handling of an incident with mass casualties that involved a transit system and hazardous materials.

It was the largest and most comprehensive drill to date, said Muth, who said that for the first time local hospitals participated in the activity.

An official from St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson said yesterday that the facility's receiving of mock patients went well.

Officials will complete an analysis of participants' execution of emergency procedures during the drill and make suggestions about improving plans in an "after-action report."

And although the evaluation will not be complete for a while, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he is pleased with the drill because it provides continuing education for local and regional emergency response groups, which, in turn, keeps the public safe.

Said Smith: "The security of citizens is the first responsibility of government, so we take it pretty seriously."

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