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Disaster simulation preps Utah responders for real-life crisis

Posted at 3:53 PM, Jun 20, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Should a national disaster take place, is Salt Lake City and surrounding areas equipped to take in dozens of injured patients? An intense simulation at the Utah Air National Guard base helped answer those questions.

One-by-one, 36 mannequins were seen carried off a plane on stretchers during Thursday's exercise. But even before the simulation began, teams were taking notes and discussing a game plan for something that only happens every other year.

"This is a learning opportunity for us. Everybody here is learning how we’re going to respond in a real world situation," explained Tova Reddick-Starkel, Associate Director with the Salt Lake City Health Care System.

Salt Lake City is one of 62 federal coordination centers in the United States.

With the exercise underway, the plane lands and medic teams make their way to the airfield, prioritizing the most critical patients.

"In a real world, we could be doing hundreds of patients, multiple jets landing, and triaging patients one after another," said Sen. Master Sgt. Julia Dandurand with the Air National Guard.

Each of the mannequin's used has a name, medical history and paperwork explaining the extent and cause of injuries. The simulation is meant to feel as real as possible.

"It’s important to take this seriously today because we don’t know when it’s actually going to happen," said Reddick-Starkel, "when a real disaster’s going to happen."

Immediate medical care is important, but so is record-keeping and organization. A whiteboard lists patient information and hospital destinations.

"The process isn’t always perfect but there’s always room for process improvement, and that’s what we’re here to learn today," said David Pritchard, FCC Coordinator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A mass emergency response such as the simulation is a team effort. It takes the work of the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, the Utah Air National Guard, the U.S. Transportation Command and many state and local agencies.

"We all bring a different unique capability to the table, and together is what really makes it work well," explained Lt. Col. Brandon Bowen with the National Guard Bureau.

Once everything wrapped up, an after-action report will be issued which will highlight any weaknesses and apply them to next year’s exercise.