Medical, emergency personnel get training in coping with mass casualties

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Boston bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas are recent events that raise the question: Are medical and emergency personnel across the country prepared to handle a similar crisis?

This week, about 400 doctors, nurses, and first responders across Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are in Biloxi for the 12th annual Trauma Symposium. They are training on how to handle incidents with mass casualties.

"Wake up. No!" a young lady screamed.

It was a scenario of mass chaos.

"Smoke, I can't see!" shouted another girl.

"Help me!" a student yelled nearby.

A fake bomb exploded at a high school awards ceremony.

"This is a mass casualty incident drill where we've had approximately 100 victims in an explosion. There's also an active shooter on the scene," said Patrick Quave, Trauma Program Coordinator.

Pretend patients, bloodied and burned, groaned in agony. Others were traumatized over the loss of loved ones.

Medical personnel and first responders had to assess the victims' conditions and make triage decisions. The emergency drill was new this year at the Trauma Symposium in Biloxi.

"We planned this whole scenario out long before we knew anything about Boston," said Gail Thomas, MS Coastal Trauma Care Region Director. "We don't know what's going to happen in this time and day and so we want to be prepared, from our people who work outside the hospital in the field in the ambulances all the way up to our surgeons who are taking care of people in the hospital."

Speakers also shared their expertise on managing crisis situations. Dr. Christopher Colwell was on the scene after the Columbine school massacre and he treated patients in Denver following the deadly Aurora theater shootings. He also spoke in Boston just three months before the marathon bomb blasts.

"We can now use all these recent events as a perfect stepping stone to saying, 'Let's not think if, let's think when.' What are we going to do to be ready for that and how are we going to prepare, not just as medical providers, as physicians, as nurses, as EMS or paramedics, but as a community?" said Dr. Colwell.

The trauma training puts experience, people, and resources together so they can deal with 'real' disasters.

"Mass disasters like this don't occur every day, but when they do, we've got to be prepared to deal with it. We've got to be able to recall that information, and to have this kind of training as a reminder," said Philip Thomas, a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

"Safety is so important, knowing what to look for on the scene, if something should happen suddenly right where we are. If we know there may be other explosives around, it could be someone shooting, we need to be prepared for those things," said Gail Thomas. "We want the public to feel comfortable that we have a trauma system in place, and that we're training people and they know what to do, and we'll be there to help them."

The symposium is hosted by the Mississippi Coastal Trauma Region. It continues Thursday at the IP Casino Resort. Speakers will focus on blast injuries, head injuries, burns, and the psychological trauma following disasters.

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