Bartow EMA responds to EF3 tornado drill
by Neil B. McGahee
May 03, 2014 | 1877 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Amy Pierce, a Georgia Highlands College student, is bandaged by Cartersville Medical Center triage officers Darrell Abernathy, left, and Richard Eberhart as others wait to be treated. NEIL MCGAHEE/The Daily Tribune News
Amy Pierce, a Georgia Highlands College student, is bandaged by Cartersville Medical Center triage officers Darrell Abernathy, left, and Richard Eberhart as others wait to be treated. NEIL MCGAHEE/The Daily Tribune News
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A massive EF3 tornado slammed into an academic building at Georgia Highlands College’s Cartersville campus Friday morning killing six students and injuring 14. First responders attempting to reach the scene had to be rerouted because both main access routes — State Road 20 and Smith-Cline Road — were blocked by debris. Victims were taken to the Cartersville Medical Center where a triage center and temporary morgue was set up to handle the sudden influx of victims as well as frantic family and friends searching for their loved ones.

That’s the scenario faced by city and county emergency units participating in a mass fatality drill, simulating what first responders might encounter in event of an actual emergency.

“It was very realistic,” Bartow County Emergency Management director Paul Cuprowski said. “And it gave us a good idea of where we are in preparing for these types of emergencies.”

Cuprowski said the Cartersville Medical Center’s emergency department got a little more realism than expected when several real emergencies were brought in at the same time as the drill victims.

Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Barwick confirmed that the hospital received several patients during the drill.

“We are an emergency department so we are accustomed to working this way,” he said. “We can’t stop treating patients just because there is a drill going on.”

Twenty Georgia Highlands nursing students, replete in bloody makeup, simulated victims displaying a variety of injuries from puncture wounds to a broken back and six fatalities.

After emergency units made their way into the college and performed on-scene treatments, the victims were taken to a Cartersville Medical Center parking lot triage center for evaluation.

Erin Chance, Holi Bohannon and Jenna Brown, their faces bloodied by flying debris, huddled together in the triage area as triage officers evaluated the extent of their injuries.

Cuprowski explained that the hospital triage conforms to standards set by the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Incoming victims, he explained have been evaluated at the scene by first responders and tagged with a red, yellow or green card — red being those needing the most urgent care and green the least. Deceased victims are taken to a nearby temporary morgue shielded from sight by barriers.

Chance, Bohannon and Brown received yellow tags and were treated and released. Not so lucky was Amy Pierce who was treated in the triage area for head injuries, then taken to the emergency room for further treatment.

“Overall, I think the drill went really well,” Cuprowski said. “We learned that we have some concerns about our communications, using different frequencies and channels and we found some shortcomings in our triage system in that we all need to be using the same system. We realize that we did very well but there is always room for improvement. That’s why we have the drills.”