Disaster exercise helps first-responders, support agencies stay ready for the worst

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A tour bus slams into a fuel tanker on U.S. Highway 380 over Lake Lavon. Fuel spills, a fire erupts and the casualty count climbs as police and fire agencies jump to contain the scene, while every available ambulance for miles is called on to transport the injured to local hospitals, and the grim task of getting in touch with victims' families begins.

That's the short version of a mass casualty exercise held at Sister Grove Park in mid-July by a dozen local agencies in Collin County. The purpose? How – exactly – do you respond to the scope of a crisis of this size that could tap virtually every resource you have on hand?

"An exercise like this gives our mutual-aid partners an opportunity to focus their attention on support, communications, and logistic operations," says Jim McCrone, the county's Emergency Management Coordinator.

"Life-saving response efforts often rely on the ability to get their hands on needed resources, help families connect with loved ones, and share information between agencies, just as much as identifying the quickest route to a hospital," he says.

 It helps to work out any kinks in procedures or methods before such a crisis unfolds, not in the middle of a real disaster.

"We're working to see what we can do to make response and recovery efforts faster, better, and more comprehensive when we rehearse these things." 

Some new partners and players are lending an added dimension to the response training and exercises that go beyond on-scene operations with first-responders and a command center housed in the Collin County Sheriff's Office

One of those dimension involves working to strengthen family assistance center operations through the county's  Medical Examiner, The American Red Cross,  Crisis Response Ministries and Bless Mobile -- the idea being that these agencies can contact and contact families with the injured quicker than first-responders.

Also pitching in was Volunteer McKinney and the Collin County Volunteers Active in a Disaster, local folks who donate their time to help out the community when and where it's needed. For this exercise, the volunteers offered themselves up as mock patients to go through on-scene medical triage procedures with Emergency Medical Technicians from fire departments in Lucas, Wylie, Princeton, and McKinney.


More input came from the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and the Collin County Fire Marshal, all backed up by another five county departments for logistics and technical support.

Local hospitals like Baylor Scott & White, and Medical City Plano, along with American Medical Response – the ambulance service that serves rural Collin County -- and other Emergency Medical Service (EMS) pros from area fire departments.

ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Services group tested out a volunteer-run, back-up crisis communications network.