July, 2002, the National Strategy for Homeland Security instructed the Homeland Security Department to create the National Exercise Program.  This is a series of preparedness programs that have gone from full-scale live exercises to tabletop drills that have decision-makers respond to an escalating series of crises.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, and terrorism are usually the main topics that are played out in “mock drills”.  Hospitals are required to participate in some sort of disaster drill every so often in order to maintain their accreditation.

It is hard to actually meet the real goals of a disaster drill because in many emergency systems, it is almost impossible to fail a disaster exercise.  An effective manager can learn about problems within the system or plan.  These drills are supposed to be learning experiences and mistakes should happen.  Constant improvising by the incident commander as the drill is being done, will result in saving as many (simulated) lives as possible.

We recently visited with a local director of an EMS department of a rural hospital and asked for his opinion of the drills.  In conjunction with local law enforcement personnel, his EMS personnel and the hospital staff have conducted drills ranging from school bus accidents with multiple injuries to plane crashes in the area, and many more.  Here are his thoughts on the subject:
“In response to the disaster drills, I consider myself pro-active most times. Mock drills do show areas of weakness in any emergency service no matter if it’s volunteer or paid, plus it’s a great time to work out bugs with mutual aid departments working in your county or other counties that may be called to help with the disaster. On the other side of the coin, I think Homeland Security grants have not been utilized to their best in rural areas. Monies have been spent in many rural hospitals on equipment and supplies that in my opinion is wasted money on things that a rural hospital will never use, and the supplies have high risk of expiration dates, causing the supplies to be disposed of before use. Pre-hospital providers in the rural setting are lacking equipment, training, and personal protective gear for disasters; many of us struggle with old equipment and limited budgets for trucks and so on.  I do think that Homeland Security should be concerned with rural USA for attacks and other disasters. We are very vulnerable and most people don’t think something could happen in the small areas of Texas. Shelters and available personnel are not readily available if something should happen.”

In an article by C.L. Staten, ERRI Senior National Security Analyst, listed below are his recommendations to develop an effective plan and response to a major disaster:

  • Write a plan
  • Train all participants for their part in the plan
  • Conduct a drill to test the plan and personnel
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the plan
  • Revise the plan as necessary to achieve the desired end-outcome objectives
  • Repeat if necessary

Be thankful for those who expect the unexpected, and are prepared for it!

Source for parts of the article: Emergency Response & Research Institute