As the Great Bend mock disaster drill, simulating a tornado touching down in the city, wrapped up Thursday afternoon, the area fell under a real tornado watch.
“We almost had to cancel,” said Dawn Jaeger, assistant city administrator. With potentially real bad weather looming, city officials didn’t want safety personnel tied up nor the public to be confused.
But, under a slate-gray sky, emergency crews, law enforcement and city staff members carried out the day-long exercise. “We wanted to make sure everyone knew their roles and what do to,” said Jaeger, who would serve as the public information officer in the event of a genuine disaster. “We were looking for gaps in service.”
In addition to all city departments, county officials and emergency managers from Claflin, Ellinwood and Hoisington took part. Ambulances transported the “victims” to Central Kansas Medical Center and Great Bend Regional Hospital, both in Great Bend, and Clara Barton Hospital in Hoisington and Ellinwood District Hospital in Ellinwood.
The streets around Veterans Memorial Lake were blocked by barricades and guarded by police officers from early Thursday morning through the middle of the afternoon. The parking lot on the west end of the park was the scene of the triage, as red and blue emergency vehicle lights flashed and ambulances rolled in and out. Fire fighters, emergency medical technicians and other officers roamed the area.
In the simulation, computers were useless and all communication was done verbally. “We tested our ability to communicate in the field,” she said. Also tested were transportation and patient tracking.
“We did a community simulation last year,” Jaeger said. But, it wasn’t nearly as extensive and consisted more of a table-top drill. Kansas state health and safety officials sat in and offered suggestions.
“This time, we put things into practice,” Yaeger said.
The incident command center was set up at the Great Bend City Office and the Emergency Operations Center was at the Barton County courthouse.
To add to the authenticity of the disaster, there also a number of victims. There were students from Great Bend High School and Barton Community College, as well as senior citizens and other volunteers.
“The kids were pumped,” said GBHS drama teacher Dan Heath. “They loved it. Fake blood is fun.”
Ending the day, those involved met at Great Bend Fire Station Number 1 for a debriefing to discuss what went right and what went wrong,