Disaster Drill Keeps Region 8's Emergency Responders On Their Toes

June 16, 2004 -- Posted at 2:54 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO -- Since September 11th, the treat of terrorist attacks has become very real, even here in Region 8. Some say that being prepared is the key to survival...and 13 counties in Northeast Arkansas agree.

Wednesday's mock disaster drill looked like a scene from a movie: Bodies on the ground, men in white space suits, and emergency personnel saving lives.

Gary McCracken, a Registered Nurse at St. Bernards Medical Center said, "With terrorism on the rise as it is, and the concerns all over the country, it's important that we know how to handle that."
Fortunately, it's just a drill.

"This is probably the largest drill that we've ever participated in. this was the whole region, all the way from Helena from the south up to Piggott in the north and all the acute care hospitals and counties involved have been involved in planning this," said Kathryn Blackman, Regional Leader of the NEA Bio-Terrorism Preparedness & Response team.

It's also a way for emergency and medical officials to brush up on their crisis skills.
Chip Mann of Medic One Ambulance Service said, "If it was the real thing, our guys would be a little bit more up on what to do and if they do things wrong, we can go back and look at it and say this is what we need to work on."
"It's very important for us to be able to stay in tune and work with other area agencies this gives everyone an opportunity to come together,"

said Jonesboro Fire Chief Butch Herring.

Event organizers had 38 volunteers come in and play the role of victims. Many were assigned as victims of Ricin and had to be decontaminated on the scene, while others were 'treated' at the St. Bernards emergency room. Fire officials were able to practice their hazardous materials management on volunteer victims on the scene, complete with bio-terrorism suits. Victims playing the part of the walking wounded also helped doctors diagnose injuries.

Victim Vikki Bennett recited her symptoms, "I'm calm, catatonic and heaving occasionally."
"I'm severely wheezing, I have a topical reaction, my skins itching, I'm hysterical," said Victim Ann Hatcher as she lay rolling on the ground moaning.
Victim Emily Bass acted out her symptoms, "I'm supposed to be sweating profusely, coughing, and weezing."
But it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to training for treatment.
"Hopefully we'll never ever have to use this, but we need to be ready, the threat is real in the country and we just want to be prepared," said McCracken.
Wednesday's event was staged at the Northeast Arkansas District Fairgrounds and St. Bernards Medical Center, and was sponsored by the Northeast Regional Bio-terrorism Response and Preparedness Team.