Faux earthquake incites chaos, mayhem at Orem hospital
Ace Stryker - Daily Herald
OREM -- Dozens of dead bodies littered the parking lots of Timpanogos Regional Hospital and its surroundings Monday as emergency responders struggled to coordinate rescue efforts in the aftermath of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake that hit an apartment complex across the street.
"My baby's coming. Somebody help me," cried one surviving victim, a young woman huddled outside one of the buildings in the Cortland Ridge complex. "My water broke, and I'm early. I'm not due for three more weeks."
Nearby, another woman collapsed into unconsciousness after sustaining a blow to the forehead. A third roamed the area listlessly, howling in terror as a glass shard embedded just above the right eye drew a fresh stream of blood gushing down her face.
As green-vested rescuers swarmed to the scene -- members of the area's volunteer Community Emergency Response Teams -- one rushed to the aid of a 9-year-old boy who lay strewn across the grass. She elevated his legs on a nearby rock and urged him to share his name or describe his condition, but he was too far in a state of shock to produce a coherent answer. The woman made a waving motion over his body, from toe to chest, as if appealing to some unseen force for aid.
"And then this is when I would put the blanket on you," she said.
Nearby, another unconscious victim wrapped around a parking sign shifted in discomfort.
"I'm sunburning," she muttered.
Other CERT members roamed the grounds in small packs, searching for more survivors. At each stop, they repeated a similar ritual, offering hypothetical water bottles and other supplies. Some victims screamed, fully committed to their suffering, while others giggled and chatted with their neighbors as they awaited medical attention.
Under a small CERT canopy at the entrance to the complex, coordinator Laurel Martinson scolded her colleagues for breaking from protocol by spending too much time with some victims. Some of the rescuers murmured that they never received a radio or didn't hear the orders.
"You guys are not supposed to be doing treatment at this point," she said. "You're just supposed to be doing triage."
It's true, much of the confusion on the scene in Orem was planned -- built into the earthquake drill to throw curveballs at responders as they might encounter in a real disaster. But much of it was incidental -- the result of limited resources, limited training, and multiple organizations coming together in a way they aren't used to, said Lance Madigan, spokesman for the Utah County Health Department.
"Everybody had different things that they were working on, because they were coming from different directions," he said. "As always, there's things to learn and work on, and in some ways, drills aren't successful if they go 100 percent perfectly, because it means we didn't learn anything."
In a real situation, Madigan said, the various participants' roles would be more clearly defined and more help would be available. He said many members of his office couldn't help because, well, they had other work back in the office.
"Under normal circumstances, the paramedics would give a better heads-up to the hospital before patients started showing up," he said. "The biggest thing that we loved and the biggest advantage of doing these is getting to know our partners and how our partners work, how they respond."
More than a dozen disaster response organizations participated, including the Mountain Valley Chapter of the Red Cross, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Utah County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, the Utah County Sheriff's Emergency Management Division, Orem City Emergency Services, Provo City Emergency Management, Provo College, the Department of Homeland Security and the Utah County Medical Reserve Corps.
Kimball Anderson, chief operating officer of MountainStar Healthcare's Utah County Network, said the hospital typically participates in about four disaster drills a year. The last one was a hostage exercise with Orem police and SWAT team members last fall, he said.
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