Operation Truckee Terror: Drill tests emergency preparedness
It all started with a false fire alarm in Tahoe Forest Hospital around 9 a.m. Then there was the shooting at the high school, bringing 35 victims into the ER, followed by a gasoline explosion at the Town of Truckee yard and a bomb on Highway 89 with the potential of harming 100 people.
Then when everyone thought the terrorist exercise at Tahoe Forest Hospital couldn’t have gotten any more dire, there was an explosion on Interstate 80 eastbound at the Hirschdale bridge, where the bridge collapsed, sending 34 cars, with 60 victims, into the water below.
Even though the staff at Tahoe Forest Hospital involved in the terrorist exercise didn’t know it would be a multiple-incident attack – they were only told about the shooting at the high school – they still had to identify the major issues and remain organized during the “emergency.”
“We have a transportation out problem, too many victims and not enough beds, and the potential for a terrorist attack on the hospital,” said Debbie White, the planning chief for the exercise, from the hospital’s command center during Thursday’s exercise.
Deemed “Operation Truckee Terror,” the exercise was one of Tahoe Forest Hospital’s biannual emergency preparedness sessions. The exercise, which was more than a year in the making, is supposed to prepare hospital staff for the event of a real attack and help them identify problems with their current emergency plan.
“It’s all about improvement,” White said before the exercise began.
During the exercise, there was an influx of “patients” in the emergency room, most were Tahoe Truckee High School Students with simulated injuries, or moulage, brought in by paramedics.
Although the staff in the ER took their roles in the exercise seriously, there was still an element of having fun on an atypical day of work. Some staff members admitted that during a real incident, the action would play out differently.
Back in the command center – actually the conference room in the hospital’s administration building – tensions were high. Sectional leaders hurriedly scribbled notes on clipboards to relay messages to the ER or security staff.
Teri Smith, who had the role of public information officer, quickly devised an alternate route to Reno medical facilities, because eastbound Interstate 80 was “closed off.” Other section leaders called Incline Village Community Hospital for extra beds, nurses and physicians for the new round of “patients” coming from the bridge collapse.
At 10:30 a.m., Exercise Director Kim Thomas called off Operation Truckee Terror.
Thomas, who scripted the entire incident, commended her section supervisors in the command center for a job well done.
“You’ve walked through the situation and you’ve come up with a plan,” Thomas said. “It’s important that you search for alternate solutions where we don’t have the capabilities.”
Tahoe Forest’s Operation Truckee Terror comes after a nationwide exercise, called Topoff2, a five-day simulated terrorist attack performed in several U.S. cities May 12 through 16.
Local, state and federal agencies were involved in the $16 million exercise – which included a bombing in Seattle, the spread of biological warfare in Chicago and several smaller disasters in other American cities.
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