Bodies lay everywhere bloodied and bruised. They were under pieces of wooden debris, in wind-tossed cars and in the middle of the street. Some moved, slightly. Some bellowed in pain. Others lay motionless, dead. Firefighters rushed to those most in need of help, like Brian Wilson, who lay on his stomach with a piece of glass the size of a compact disc sticking out of his back. "Where are you hurt?” fire Maj. Tim Bennett asked Wilson. "Can you walk?” Truth is, Wilson was not hurt and could walk, but he said he couldn't move. He, like dozens of others, was pretending to be injured during a training session Wednesday.
How the exercise was set upA series of mock tornadoes had torn through the region, leaving behind a field of overturned cars and debris at the Oklahoma City police and fire training center. Shortly after 9 a.m., police and fire units were arriving on the scene to render aid. "This full-scale exercise is to test our first responders and especially our incident command system,” said Sgt. Frank Barnes, the police liaison to the Oklahoma City office of emergency management. Debris was strategically placed to simulate how difficult it can be to get to victims. Wilson, an Oklahoma City firefighter, was put on a stretcher and carried more than 100 yards to a triage area where paramedics were categorizing and treating victims by the severity of their supposed injuries. By 10 a.m., animal welfare workers were on the scene corralling stuffed animals, which stood in for household pets that would turn stray during a tornado or similar disaster. Meanwhile, hospitals across the metro area were holding their own disaster response scenario, testing their capabilities and triage staging. Patients with faked injuries filled emergency rooms.
Unforeseen challengesThe Midwest City Fire Department, Oklahoma City Public Works, Oklahoma City-County Health Department and several other agencies coordinated responses through the incident command center. The health department tested its immunization capabilities. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service monitored any weather that may have interfered with the disaster response. Organizers hired a deaf woman as an actor so that rescuers would be faced with a variety of unforeseen scenarios. Firefighters had to improvise to communicate with her by writing on paper. Wednesday's exercise was about more than just responding to a tornado. "The reason we use a tornado is because it is common, but the skills that the first responders use here ... can be used in any kind of incident or any kind of hazard that may occur,” Barnes said.
Oklahoma City firefighters help a mock tornado victim, portrayed by firefighter Brian Wilson, during a regional disaster exercise Wednesday. BY PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND, THE OKLAHOMAN