Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Boy oh boy do I feel safe at the Aquarium of the Pacific, located in downtown Long Beach, thanks to the great teamwork between various agencies in the area. To start with, we have a great group of people who make up the Aquarium’s cross-departmental Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and I am proud to say that I am a part of that group.
Most, if not all, of the EOC members also took Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training from the Long Beach Fire Department, so they are knowledgeable on helping first responders perform triage, sorting victims, determining the extent of their injuries in 30 seconds or less, and applying first aid as needed.
Ed, safety manager at the Aquarium, can be credited with arranging for Will Nash, a Long Beach Fire Department CERT instructor, to hold two sessions of daytime classes for us. (He also arranged for emergency first aid training by Josh, an army combat medic and member of our EOC team.),
CERT training prepares participants to respond to disasters in the time before emergency assistance arrives on the scene. Will told us that we need to prepare for seven days of being without expert help in the event of earthquakes or other disasters. (That means having seven days of water, medicine, and food for each member of the family, including pets.)
The training includes basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. (The fire department usually holds CERT training sessions in the evenings, when it is offered.)
Through the EOC, Ed has continued work to continue improving the safety of Aquarium guests, staff members, and animals, reaching out to outside agencies including our local hospital, St. Mary Medical Center, and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Long Beach Fire and Police departments also participated.
Coordination between these agencies-starting with practicing emergency response knowledge during disaster drills, like a recent simulated boating accident that resulted in approximately 15 (mock) “victims”-is crucial to our safety as well as that of others in the area in general.
The practice was worthwhile, because we learned what we were doing right and also how to improve for the next drill, or worse yet, a real disaster such as an earthquake. I wasn’t too thrilled with the 7 a.m. start time, but that’s the nature of these things, I suppose.
Student nurses from Cal State Long Beach, along with a few of us from the Aquarium, volunteered to be moulaged, which means they were made up to look like real victims, fake blood and everything.
Ed and those from the other agencies wanted to continue adding to the expertise of their volunteers, like those of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, or staff members, like the emergency personnel from the medical center’s Disaster Resource Center by arranging for the drill, which started with the victims boarding a boat to go out to sea.
While out on a pleasure ride, there was a boat “accident” and the Coast Guard sounded the alarm to our EOC. The EOC directed three Coast Guard Auxiliary vessels to rescue the injured and to bring them to shore.
While transporting the “victims” to the Pine Avenue Pier in Rainbow Harbor, off Shoreline Drive, the Coast Guard Auxiliary folks battled tides that brought them precariously close to water too shallow for their rescue boats; thankfully, they overcame that problem.
While still on the boats, Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel started initial triage, which should be repeated periodically to make sure that the victim’s condition has not worsened or improved, thus requiring reclassification of their injuries.
During triage, victims are sorted into four categories-immediate, which is denoted by red; delayed, or yellow; the “walking wounded,” or green; and the deceased, or black-using the “30/2/Can Do” method of determining within 30 seconds or less a patient’s condition. The “30” refers to the number of breaths taken in a 30-second period. If the victim’s breath rate is greater than 30 seconds per minute, this indicates that the patient is having difficulty breathing and should be tagged with a red ribbon, which signifies life-threatening injuries; red-tagged individuals are placed on the red tarp, if available, or in an area designated for immediate injuries.
The “2” measures the number of seconds it should take for a victim’s fingernail bed to return to a normal skin color after it has been squeezed. This measures blood pressure. If the pressed area stays white, victims should be marked red. The “can do” refers to the injured person’s ability to follow simple instructions, like touching the nose. Again, if victims are unable to do so, they are tagged red.
And you go from there, determining victims to tag with yellow ribbons if they are unable to walk on their own, green as those who are injured but ambulatory, and black, of course, as those who have died.
At the dock, as they waited for the rescue boats to arrive, Aquarium EOC members laid out four tarps-red, yellow, green, and black-and organized their first aid supplies.
Meanwhile, the hospital’s Disaster Resource Center personnel started getting things ready to receive the “victims,” who were going to be transported to their emergency room.
For St. Mary staff, the drill’s objective was, in part, to test the burn/trauma surge capacity of their emergency department and challenge them to incorporate mass casualty triage skills into an overwhelming event involving burn patients.
Our CERT instructor Will, who was present to observe and critique the operation, said he was impressed with how all the agencies came together to get the job done right. I’ll tell you that it was amazing to watch, which I did in order to help out our Public Relations team and also take photos for this blog.
Will said that most of the rescuers seemed to remember the basics of triage and emergency first aid, and were able to work together to get patients sorted rapidly and safely transported to the hospital.
The tarps were laid out well too, he told me, adding that he observed the rescuers continued to recheck the victims to assess their situations during the time they awaited the ambulances.
In our case, the bulk of our mock injuries were deemed to be in the immediate category, and we did have one person who “died.”
Kathy Crow, the hospital’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said that while the resource center has operated for the past three years and its staff members have taken part in and coordinated several large-scale disaster drills in Long Beach, “this was the first time we have tested our response capabilities with an on-water mass ‘victim’ drill. We are very encouraged by this collaboration–it is vital that community agencies and organizations are prepared to work together in case of a disaster.”
Another observer, Carol Burtis, a volunteer casualty coordinator in Orange County for the last 10 years and a CERT past president, agreed with Will that the drill “was well planned and executed.”
“Moulage was handled well and volunteers always love having makeup. The boats were very well coordinated for both the ride out and our ‘rescue’ crews” she said, adding that “the Aquarium staff handled triage fairly well.”
Ed has been very modest about his involvement in the drill, even though he is the one who got the ball rolling and has done a great job preparing the Aquarium for an earthquake or other disaster. He told me that he feels “very grateful that we were able to hold this first-time, multi-agency emergency response drill. This event brought together new partners in an exercise that benefited each of the participants. We learned where our challenges are and how to address these areas. It was a very exciting experience to work with the U.S. Coast Guard, their Auxiliary, the City and the hospital. Great partners make great results!”
I’ll say. And thanks to the EOC and drills like these, I feel safer and safer at the Aquarium as each day passes. Don’t you feel safer here, too?
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