Over 100 emergency responders and members of the public were on hand on Wednesday night to hear two Joplin, Missouri emergency responders tell about the Joplin tornado last May.
The meeting was coordinated by the Sheldon Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with Northwest Iowa Community College. The attendees learned valuable information that the Joplin responders learned either because it worked well, or because it didn’t.
Operations manager for Newton County Ambulance Service, Jeff Prosser and operations manager for Metro Emergency Transportation System — or “METS” Ambulance, Darrell Donham talked to the attendees and made suggestions for them to use in a large-scale disaster, such as the need for an operations center, and the need for updated phone records of agencies that can help. They stressed cross-training because, for instance, the fire department’s rescue unit may not be able to respond, so EMT’s may be forced into the search and rescue role.
They also focused on communications, both the technology and just talking to other people doing the same job. As far as radio and telephone communication — in their situation, Donham and Prosser said that cell phones worked for texting only, on a delayed basis and were useless in the first few hours for voice communication. Even their radio system, which worked flawlessly was of limited use because it didn’t operate in the same band or on the same frequencies as other ambulance crews that responded from across the state and even further out.
They also stressed that when making plans, planners should come up with two or three good ideas, because depending on the disaster, some of them may be impossible to implement, due to damage to infrastructure.
They also told attendees that at one time during the tornado response, they had so many calls that people were put on a waiting list. In fact, they stopped transporting patients directly to hospitals and set up several triage areas to determine which patients could be patched up and sent home, which ones required a little more care, and which ones needed transport to a hospital. The situation was made worse, as one of the two major hospitals received a direct hit, and was not only not available for patients, but had to be evacuated.
The EMT’s also stressed documentation of everything. It’s hard to do when it’s one emergency after another, but if you don’t you will never catch up. Plus, hours — even volunteer hours — should be documented so there is a paper trail.
Donham says they have basically one goal by taking their story “on the road”.[audio:http://www.kiwaradio.com/files/Darrell_Donham1.mp3|titles=Darrell_Donham1]
Prosser says it gives him a good feeling to be able to share what they learned.[audio:http://www.kiwaradio.com/files/Jeff_Prosser1.mp3|titles=Jeff_Prosser1]
Prosser says it’s tough to sum up everything they learned, but he was able to tell us one of the most important lessons that they learned.[audio:http://www.kiwaradio.com/files/Jeff_Prosser2.mp3|titles=Jeff_Prosser2]
The EMT’s also stressed the importance of checking with those involved in a disaster to see what they need, or when would be the best to come. Un-needed supplies become a storage issue, and people who don’t help only get in the way.
By Scott Van Aartsen