Skills honed in fake jet crash

Emergency response agencies got a chance to hone their response capabilities during a fake mass casualty incident by the Spotts Dock Monday.

Mass casualty response drill

Fire fighters taking part in a mass casualty response drill Monday assist a student playing the role of an airplane crash survivor. Photo: James Dimond

Emergency agencies received a call from 911 just before 11am telling them that a private jet carrying 39 people and 10 gallon of the hazardous chemical, formaldehyde, had crashed in the car park by Spotts Dock.

The exercise – dubbed Operation Shamrock – was organised by the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, which is required to conduct such exercises every two years to be in compliance with international standards.

On Tuesday, organisers said it was too early to conclude what had gone right and what had gone wrong, but they agreed the drill provided an important opportunity for emergency response agencies to work together and iron out any problems with response plans before hurricane season starts.

The scene

After receiving a call from 911, fire crews arrived on the scene within minutes. They jumped from their trucks and doused the pretend plane – a school bus – with water before spraying a foam spray on two 44 gallon drums that had been set alight nearby.

Police were not far behind and quickly secured the scene and established roadblocks to the east and west.

Ambulances were slower in arriving; taking nearly half an hour, but that was because they were delayed at a roadblock while police waited to give the all clear that it was safe for them to come to the site.

Passengers still on the airplane were the first to be stretchered away from the crash scene, while fire-fighters dressed in protective clothing assessed the safety of other parts of the site.

Meanwhile casualties from the crash – played by Triple C School students and member of the Cadet Corps, mocked up with fake blood and nursing fake injuries – lay strewn across the beach and fastened into a section of airplane seating that had broken away from the jet.

After being stretchered away from the immediate crash scene, paramedics undertook a second level of triaging before preparing the most critical patients for transport to the Cayman Islands Hospital. Later, patients with less severe injuries were also taken to Chrissie Tomlinson Hospital for treatment.

Department of Environmental Health responders were also on scene; their role was to minimise the risk posed by formaldehyde and later begin the decontamination process.

At the Cayman Islands Hospital, Dr. Nigel Booth was one of the many health professionals waiting to receive patients from arriving ambulances.

‘So far we are running smooth and we are going according to plan,’ he said as he waited to receive another ambulance.

‘What the drill does is give us the opportunity to test the response system, to see how fast the staff will respond, to see how well we do in terms of evaluating the patients here, distributing the patients to other locations so that beds are always available.’

Earlier, the Hospital had called all on-duty and off-duty staff to report to work immediately. They also sent out appeals for established blood donors to come to the hospital immediately to donate.

Police officers were also at the hospital, where they set up cordons around the Accident and Emergency Department to keep back the large crowd that might flock to the hospital in the aftermath of such a disaster.

EMS Manager Stephen Duval said exercises such as Operation Shamrock are imperative because they give emergency response agencies a chance to put into practice their training.

‘If we practice success, we get success,’ he said.

The top ranking police officer on the scene, Chief Inspector Richard Barrow, applauded all the agencies involved, saying they had pulled together pretty well as a team.

Mr. Barrow acknowledged that Operation Shamrock had caused some inconvenience to motorists Monday morning and thanked them for their patience and cooperation. However, it seemed most motorists understood the importance of the exercises, he added.

‘It tests our response; it tests our training and give us a chance to put that training into practice,’ he said.

‘These exercises are the time you can make a mistake. Any shortfall we have; this is the time we can recognise it and improve on it so we are better prepared if such a scenario really happens.’

Agencies involved in the drill included Hazard Management Cayman Islands; Emergency Communication 911; the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service; the Fire Department; the Health Services Authority, Government Information Services; the National Roads Authority; The Department of Environmental Health; the Port Authority; the Red Cross; and Air Agencies.

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