The blocked-off area outside the Noble Training Facility was overrun with people in protective gear, actors with realistic flesh-wound makeup and quick-setup decontamination centers. It was all part of the CDP’s Integrated Capstone Event — a massive disaster simulation that pooled resources from law enforcement, hazardous material and medical response teams.
More than 200 students representing 85 agencies from 33 states participated in Friday’s exercise.
“Training is a critical element of FEMA’s mission to support our local, state and tribal first responders,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was quoted as saying in a press release. “Combining multiple disciplines, CDP’s unique facilities offer responders the opportunity to experience a mass casualty incident and truly prepare for similar events in their own communities.”
The capstone event — the third the CDP has hosted since last year — provides students at the weekly training sessions a chance to integrate all their learning into one exercise. Friday’s simulation involved a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new medical facility at a fictional university. The imaginary event turned violent when protesters were able to force their way into the building and set off an explosion.
Under the scenario, law enforcement officials worked to secure the premises, arrest the protesters and find potential victims. Hazardous material responders searched the building for signs of chemical contamination and quarantined the hospital from possible spread of dangerous chemicals. Meanwhile, hospital workers at the Noble Training Facility’s new hospital simulation quarters were busy as patients — role players hired to help out for the day — filled up the waiting rooms and trauma bays, suffering everything from imagined flesh wounds to crush injuries.
The most important aspect of the event, said Mike King, acting superintendent of the CDP, was to remove the different responders from isolated training to begin to understand how different agencies can work together under extreme circumstances.
“The problem is not with the teams, it’s how they work with each other,” King said. “It’s so critical for us to put all the pieces together.”
Greg Pippins, one of the event’s coordinators, said although full details and scenarios were mostly provided as the events were unfolding, the students from different disciplines had been communicating with each other all week to better understand how their roles would play out on Friday.
“It’s important to know what each entity can bring to the table,” Pippins said. “Law enforcement has capabilities the hazmat people don’t and the hazmat has capabilities law enforcement doesn’t. When we can bring those capabilities together, it’s a very good thing.”
Besides the simulated mass casualties, hospital overflow and possible threat of chemical contamination, there was one real-life threat on Friday: Temperatures hit 90 degrees around 10 a.m.
“The heat’s providing a secondary caution — fatigue,” Pippins said. “And that kind of thing happens in real life, and we’re letting them rehab.”
Cooling off after a morning of securing the building where the explosion occurred, Brent Wheat, a police lieutenant from Lebanon, Ind., said the biggest advantage the CDP offers is the space, time and facilities to pull off large exercises, using vast amounts of manpower.
“This type of thing would be hard to stage on a local level,” Wheat said. “We don’t have the ability to do this anywhere else. This facility is incredible.”
Rick Dickson, the Assistant Director for Education and Training at the CDP, said a capstone event takes about three months of planning but costs no more than a normal day of training students and responders at the center. Two more simulations at the CDP are planned for 2012. Dickson said next year the center is planning to put together eight, with the hopes of implementing the events monthly after that.
Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.