Partnerships Make California Exercise Possible

Submitted By

Dan Wall
Ventura County Emergency Preparedness Office, California
October 2, 2013

Do you think the various emergency response and public health officials in your community could work together well in the face of disaster? One way to find out is by engaging your partners and training with them now. California emergency response officials took their training one step further and deployed to a remote ranch to test their relationships and response capabilities during an austere medical exercise. Over the weekend of May 3—5, 2013, the Ventura County (CA) Emergency Preparedness Office planned and implemented a full-scale exercise with state and local emergency response officials, as well as 130 volunteers from six Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units from across the state.

Participants included local Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Search and Rescue, the State of California EMS Agency, Disaster Health Volunteers administrators, ESAR-VHP administrators, and the California Department of Public Health. Volunteers represented Lake County MRC, Marin County MRC, Riverside County MRC, Santa Barbara County MRC, and Tulare MRC units. The exercise took place at Bodee’s Rancho Grande, just outside of Ojai, CA. Inspired by the volunteers’ commitment to the community and through a partnership with Ventura County, ranch owners donated use of their 200 acre ranch for the weekend. In a remote location without cell phone reception or internet, the medical deployment illustrated how MRC volunteers would have to respond in the field without access to modern technology.

Many attendees remarked on how strong partnerships made the event an overwhelming success. One volunteer from Lake County MRC, two hours north of San Francisco, noted that since their county has a population of only 60,000, executing an exercise of this scale could not be possible. “We couldn’t have done an exercise like this without our partnership with Ventura County,” he said. On the first day of the medical deployment, participants attended trainings, including START Triage, Gun Shot Wounds, Field Care of a Trauma Patient, and a Helicopter Safety Demonstration, led by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. In the afternoon, volunteers participated in a team building exercise that encouraged the different partners to get to know each other better on the first day and to communicate effectively in a time-sensitive situation. This exercise required them to build a boat with only a few materials and safely sail to the other side of the lake with a patient in tow.

The full-scale exercise took place on the second day with a plane crash scenario. Participants formed three teams: victims, search and rescue, and triage. They repeated the drill three times, participating in a different role each time to experience the challenges in responding and what could occur in each perspective. While some communications issues arose during the drills, participants worked seamlessly in their teams and responded quickly and competently.

During the hotwash, participants unanimously declared the exercise a fun and educational experience. They also indicated that they would be interested in learning more about the mental health aspects of triage in this scenario and how to work with animals next year. Ventura County Emergency Preparedness Office Manager Dan Wall plans to invite a larger crowd next year. “A large training opportunity like this is so rare but critical for emergency preparedness,” Dan said. “It is crucial for us to understand how we would work with our partners during a real emergency.”

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