County trains for mass casualty emergency |

County trains for mass casualty emergency

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Mock emergency plannedThe second part of the training will take place with a full-scale mock emergency on June 13 at Keystone. Traffic will not be blocked during the exercise and no nearby homeowners should be affected. There will be plenty of emergency medical staff on hand to respond to any live emergencies that occur during the training.Anyone with questions or concerns about the training should call Joel Cochran at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at (970) 453-2232.SUMMIT COUNTY – If the worst happened, would we be ready?

That’s a question county emergency manager Joel Cochran and the state Department of Public Health and Environment are hoping to answer, or at least get a feel for, during a two-day mock mass casualty exercise that began earlier this week and wraps up on June 13.The exercise revolves around this scenario: An events tent has collapsed in Keystone’s Tenderfoot Parking Lot trapping hundreds of potential victims.”There are many injured people, 911 calls continue to be received and (they are) clogging the phone system,” Cochran tells a few dozen of local police officers, firefighters, communications specialists and EMTs crowded into the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for Monday’s tabletop training.Immediately the room begins to buzz with activity. Bosses from the fire department and the local ambulance service scrawl a command structure on a white board, while police officers determine the access points into and out of the parking lot. They discuss issues such as site security, traffic and the rescue itself.Meanwhile, Cochran types in an electronic message requesting mutual aid from hospitals around the state. Within minutes, a website tells him how many beds are available and where. Later on, as victims are transported to different hospitals, a second, brand-new state system will tell the command center where each patient is and how severe the victim’s injuries are.Sheriff John Minor is on the phone determining how many police officers are available to respond the incident while still leaving enough coverage elsewhere in the county. To free up more manpower, he signs an order requesting 911 dispatchers summon police officers only for in-progress calls or those involving drugs or alcohol.Representatives from the American Red Cross, the Summit Stage and the county sit around a U-shaped table clacking on laptops and cradling telephones on one ear, each person figuring out how their respective departments can help.

Even though this emergency isn’t real, the behind-the-scenes response in the event of an actual disaster would be similar, and necessary.The county has a limited number of resources – at its highest level, EMS operations are staffed to handle 30 calls a day. When crisis occurs, the personnel stationed at the EOC, mostly key county decision makers, are responsible for organizing back-up so incident commanders on-scene don’t have to worry about whether there will be enough ambulances for the number of patients or enough fire retardant to put out a wildfire.”It’s all about coordination and support,” Cochran said.The goal of this training is to test how well the group coordinates the activation of mutual aid, the communication between emergency management operations and the medical community, and patient movement and tracking. Before the EOC opened, all of that organization was done “on the hood of a car,” said Sean Caffrey, director of Summit County Ambulance Service, adding: “This is clearly preferable.”The impetus for the creation of the EOC came from former county manager Ron Holliday, whose experiences as Jefferson County administrator heading up communications during and after the Columbine shootings prompted him to put a heavy emphasis on emergency management, Caffrey said.

The Center, having come online shortly after 2005’s Ophir Mountain Fire behind Summit High School, has yet to be used in a real emergency, but is the site of monthly trainings on everything from a massive snowstorm that shuts down the interstate for days to a manhunt after a police officer shooting.This latest exercise is part of Operation Mountain Move, a two-year, grant-funded effort to examine statewide medical preparedness for large-scale mass casualties, said Dr. Robin Koons, emergency response coordinator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.On June 13, the tent collapse scenario will be played out in Keystone as though it were actually happening to further test the system.”We hope to learn a lot,” Koons said. “We hope to stretch our capabilities and really identify what works best and where our gaps might be that we need to focus on a little more.”Eventually Koons wants to use this and similar trainings to create best management practices for all county emergency managers in the state. Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at

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