Emergency responders test skills with fake bus crash


Photo Gallery | Mock emergency drill simulates bus crash

Video | A mock emergancy drill in North Adams tests the coordination of multiple agencies

NORTH ADAMS — Repeat, this is only a drill.

Despite that notice, Northern Berkshire emergency responders didn't react lightly Thursday morning to the mock crash between a dump truck and bus on Curran Memorial Highway.

"Route 8, Route 7, Route 2 [have] been the scene of some pretty horrific accidents in the past, so we want to continue to work on developing our new plans," said Amalio Jusino, co-chairman of Northern Berkshire Emergency Planning Committee, which coordinated the drill.

Responders from more than half a dozen agencies responded to the carefully orchestrated "crash," which involved a bus full of students — some injured, some not.

The response not only tested the ability of emergency medical services, fire and police agencies to secure the scene and triage patients, but it particularly focused on how to handle the aftermath of a major accident that would require students be reunited with their families.

"We know how to respond to a motor vehicle crash," Jusino said. "Where we were failing, though, is if it's a bus and we have 20 students that aren't injured; how do we get that reunification to occur? Parents showing up, vehicles showing up; how do we manage that scene?"

The bus used for the accident was donated by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, and the truck belongs to the city of North Adams. With some human volunteers and some dummies, medical personnel assessed their individual needs, and the uninjured were taken to Drury High School to reunite with parents.

With a mass casualty incident, the emergency responders were forced to coordinate closely with Berkshire Medical Center, which played a major role in the exercise, to assess where patients could be taken. In a large-scale event, the Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams Campus, Fairview Hospital, BMC's main campus in Pittsfield, and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt., all would potentially be in play.

"Communication to the hospital is critical," Jusino said. "I can't send 25 red, critical patients to BMC and expect the same level of care."

Several experts sat back and watched as emergency responders handled the scene, checking out how they handled specific tasks and situations.

Of particular interest to organizers was how new hospital employees and emergency responders would tackle their duties, having never handled such an exercise before.

"I've been to a number of mass casualty incidents in real life, but for some of our officers here today, this is their first training on a mass casualty incident, and they were very nervous," said North Adams Police Sgt. James Burdick. "We've got a number of new officers [and] they've never experienced any of this, so this is how you give them a little bit of a taste so they know how to handle it when it's the real deal."

Though it only took a few hours to conduct, the event took about 18 to 20 months to plan, according to Jusino. And even after the scene was cleared and responders returned to normal operations on Thursday, the work was far from over.

The involved parties will take assessments of the day's events and create an after-action report to implement changes in their systems and response.

Jusino said he was pleased with the teams' response, but he acknowledged there were certain things he would tweak.

"Did we perform the way we should have? Absolutely," he said. "Are there little technical things we want to improve? Yeah, that's why we plan."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6736.


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