A Successful Disaster
By Suzanne Wilson
Photographs by Wesley Hitt
An Arkansas district's disaster-drill camporee demands the ultimate in planning to provide Scouts a realistic, role-playing learning experience.
When the Razorback District camping committee met to choose a theme for the 1999 spring camporee in Fayetteville, Ark., members knew it would be hard to top the previous year's efforta "Hoboree," with Scouts traveling in boxcars of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad toward a designated campsite.
"What about a disaster drill?" committee member Bev Maloney asked. "Great idea!" the committee responded in unisonand planning began.
Scouts from Arkansas's Fort Smith-based Westark Area Council could learn from the event, gain career information, and work on the Emergency Preparedness and First Aid merit badges. Local emergency response agencies could showcase their abilities for the Scouts while practicing critical skills for dealing with disaster.
And what a disaster! Tim Janacek, camping committee chairman, outlined a "worst case" scenario: "An airplane taking off from the airport drops an engine, resulting in a plane crash. The falling engine hits a truck that veers into a school bus loaded with kids."
A plan fraught with disaster
But the committee had never organized any disaster drill, let alone something this size. Committee members, including Wayne Lockard, Bobby Luttrell, John Carden, and Tony Northcott, met with representatives from emergency response agencies to fine-
tune the details, but doubts lingered. Could they pull off such a complicated activity involving nearly 500 Scouts and leaders?
Their challenges included
- positioning youth and adult "victims," tagged with various injuries, in locations all over a rocky, wooded Ozark mountainside.
- dispatching emergency medical technicians and paramedics to the site.
- sending a search-and-rescue team up the mountain to find scattered victims, with each professional accompanied, or "shadowed," by a Scout.
- sending evacuationevaccrews up with stretchers; delivering the victims to a triage station staffed by student nurses.
- transporting many of the "injured" to area hospitals.
Mindful of the event's public relations possibilities, Tim Janacek sought a location not only convenient for emergency agencies but also visible to passersby. Even though the Boy Scout event wouldn't be open to everyone, he wanted the public to be aware of it.
His search ended successfully when the Marinoni family lent the Scouts a site on their Pam Angus Ranch, next to busy U.S. Highway 71 at the edge of Fayetteville.
When the camporee weekend finally arrived, the committee held its collective breath.
Would the disaster be a disaster, or a success?
"Everything looks good on paper," Bev Maloney reassured everyone, as they awaited the arrival of campers on Friday afternoon.
Mid-April in northern Arkansas is usually warm, but a slow-moving cold front produced cloudy skies and a windchill near freezing, adding an element of realism. For disasters (and camporees), you can't always expect ideal weather.
Dogs, mules, and throw bags
To prepare themselves for the afternoon's big moment of doom, the Scouts spent Saturday morning learning about and techniques from emergency personnel.
In particular, campers wanted to know more about the dogs, horses, and mules of the Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue unit.
When dog trainer Denise Holmes asked for an adult to conceal himself somewhere up the mountainside, Tim Goss, Troop 49 Scoutmaster from Rogers, Ark., volunteered. Ten minutes after Goss departed, Holmes gave her Saint Bernard, Mac, a sniff of the Scout leader's hat.
With that kind of clue, the pursuit was an easy task for the big dog. "Once he got the scent, he came running straight up to me," Goss reported, as he and Mac returned from his mountain hideout.
"For the dogs, this is just a game," Holmes told the Scouts. "They know that locating the person who smells like this hat means a big reward for them from me." (Mac's reward consisted of getting to play tug-of-war with Goss, who used the dog's rope toy.)
Learning the ropes
Scouts learned the ropes of search and rescue in hands-on activities. They pitched "throw bags" to victimswho ran by, pretending to be swept down a river. Then the Scouts used the rope attached to each bag to assist the victims.
"You have to get the right kind of arch when you throw," said newly expert Elliot Hunt, 13, of Fayetteville's Troop 116, chartered to Sequoyah United Methodist Church.
The Scouts learned to brace themselves and wait, rather than pull in the person. As a current carries a victim downstream, the rope will tighten, then take him where the current is weaker, allowing him to make his way to shore.
Later in the morning, fascinated Scouts watched the Fayetteville Fire Department use the Jaws of Life rescue tool to dismantle a car.
The camporee's main event was just ahead.
"You see disaster drills, but you seldom get to take part in one," said Bobby Smittle, Scoutmaster of Troop 450, Bentonville, in anticipation. "This will give us something unusual to talk about for the next three months."
To assure a timely arrival, the 100 victims who were to travel to four hospital emergency rooms in sheriffs' and Scouters' vans gathered at the ranch gate at the beginning of the drill.
Hospitals had requested specific injuries, and Scouts wore tags identifying such conditions as "multiple facial lacerations," "smoke inhalation," and "semi-comatose." Alex Dunn, 12, of Troop 66, Rogers, concealed his arm inside his shirt to portray an amputation victim.
"I need you to go out and play dead," Bev Maloney instructed a group of Scouts who wore DOADead on Arrivaltags. "The American Red Cross will come by and get identification."
Zach Rolle, 13, of Troop 142, Fayetteville, had a plan for dealing with the chilly weather: "I'm going to play dead inside a warm truck."
After their acting duties were over, the DOAs still had exciting things to do. They would accompany tracking teams, using electronic equipment to search for transmitters representing the plane's black boxes, devices that preserve flight information.
Scanning the victims
On a lower slope of the mountain, victims stationed themselves at predetermined locations marked by small yellow flags. Some were silent; many were moaning. First respondersemergency medical personnel and their Scout "shadows"conducted a "primary survival scan," tying plastic ribbons on victims' arms: orange for urgent (transport immediately), yellow for nonurgent, white for deceased.
Scout evac crews carried stretchers for short distances down the steep hillside; then, for everyone's safety, victims walked to a central triage station. Scouts from the school bus were also brought in.
Meanwhile, other victims had climbed a different section of the mountain, where they chose isolated and sometimes hidden places. (They were instructed to stay within a specified area and not to go over the top of the mountain.) Search and Rescue unit personnel and Scouts formed a line search, moving upward together. As each victim was found, a Scout was left with him, and Search and Rescue radioed the position to the evac crew.
Webelos Scouts, who attended the camporee as guests of troops, also took part in the disaster scenario. Brandon Cooley, 10, of Pack 116, Springdale, Ark., lay among rocks at the base of a tree, announcing, "I'm in shock." His dad, Patrick, sat nearby. (Webelos Scout parents accompanied their sons throughout the day.)
What did Brandon think of the drill? "It's cool," he exclaimed, which was the assessment of older Scouts, too.
When the line search reached the mountaintop, they found Michael Ferrell, 11, of Troop 2144, Rogers, curled up in a grove of cedar trees. He had decided, "I'm going to hide in a harder place, to make finding me more challenging."
Just like the real thing
Chaz Birdsong, mass casualty incident coordinator for Central Emergency Service and coordinator of triage for the drill, said a disaster of this scope would be "a once-in-a-career event" for responders.
Besides providing practice for responders and Scouts, the exercise gave the 911 dispatch center an opportunity to contact all area ambulance services as a drill to determine what could be available. "It benefits the community as a whole because it tests our emergency preparedness," Birdsong said.
When everyone was accounted for, the camping committee knew its meticulous planning and close interaction with agencies had paid off. The mock disaster, massive and unpredictable as it was, had gone well.
In a post-event meeting, an event staff member reported the comment of an emergency professional: "This is just like it is in a disaster. You can't plan anything; you just respond to what's going on."
Bev Maloney, who had said the drill looked good on paper, is assistant Scoutmaster with Bentonville's Troop 450, chartered to the First Presbyterian Church. "I was pleased," she said. "I talked with my troop afterward, and they thought it was awesome. That was important to me."
"The feedback we got from everyone was very positive," said Tim Janacek. "We feel we accomplished what we were after and brought awareness to the community."
There wasn't much time to savor their success. "We're already working on the fall camporee," Janacek said. "We have four ideas on the table...."
A Scouting magazine contributing editor, Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
Tips for Masters of Disasters
Putting together the Razorback District's disaster drill camporee provided lessons for everyone. The committee passes on some valuable tips:
Role players in the disaster didn't know it at the time, but their performances were up for Oscars.
At the Saturday night campfire, "Best Actor" went to a Scout who was supposed to be dazed and kept muttering, "Beam me up, Scotty."
"Best Actress" was awarded to a female leader who convincingly portrayed a pregnant woman delivering twins during the crisis.
On Friday night, Scouts and leaders playing disaster victims had received their injury ID tags and some coaching.
"We're doing this for your benefit," David Vining, the staff ID tag manager, reminded the role players. "This is a school for you."
"As the victim, you either make it or break it tomorrow," camping committee chairman Tim Janacek explained. "If you have burning liquid in your eyes, you need to look the part. If you can't see or have a broken leg, you want someone to help you. You can moan and groan, but no screamingdon't get overambitious. And remember, in a real scenario, victims can help other victims."
Boyd Darling, the committee's hospital and emergency service coordinator, told the "injured" Scouts traveling to emergency rooms that they should stay in character all the way, because their arrival was part of the hospitals' disaster practice. "Our disaster is helping them out, too."
District committee chairman Mike Maloney urged senior patrol leaders to encourage their Scouts' best behavior. "It's going to be chaotic at times. Stay sharp; stay focused."
Tags Tell the Story
Each Scout and leader wore a color-coded neck tag designating his or her role in the drillas a victim or as a "shadow" of emergency personnel. Razorback District used the following system:
Victims (each tag included the condition or injury of the person):
Who Can Be Involved?
In planning a disaster drill, be sure to contact all area emergency response agencies. The following agencies, organizations, and businesses participated in the Razorback District's mock disasterin the morning exhibits and the afternoon drill:
Adams Outfitterswater purification exhibit; Alpha Phi Omega, national service fraternity, University of Arkansasfood service assistance for staff and emergency personnel; American Red CrossDOA identification; Benton County Sheriff's Officehelicopter for demonstration; Central Emergency Servicetriage and triage coordination; Fayetteville Fire Departmentfire truck, hazmat unit, jaws of life demonstration, triage; Madison County Sheriff's OfficeSearch and Rescue; Mann School of Nursing, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (Community Health course project)triage station; Springdale Fire Departmenttriage; Tracker Radio Service, Springdaleblack box tracking; Explorer Post 611, chartered to Northwest Medical Centerassisting American Red Cross with DOA identification; Washington County Office of Emergency Servicesprovided list for initial contacts; Washington County Sheriff's OfficeSearch and Rescue.
Bates Medical Center, Bentonville; Northwest Medical Center, Springdale; St. Mary's Hospital, Rogers; Washington Regional Medical Center, Fayetteville.
March-April 2000 Table of Contents
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