Emergency drill

Annapolis EMTs and paramedics perform triage on the injured during a simulated tornado emergency drill at J. Albert Adams Academy. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / August 14, 2012)

The injured were bruised and confused. Those displaced were agitated. Police shouted while triage was performed and people were transported to a hospital and shelter from the parking lot of a school that had been leveled by a tornado twisting through Annapolis.

The emergency scenario that played out Tuesday morning in Maryland's capital city was a drill aimed at testing the city's response to disaster — a response that Kevin Simmons, emergency operations chief, said went "really well."

It's one thing to have plans on paper, he said, but carrying out new policies, making decisions on the fly and realizing that people need more training on upgraded computer software is what it's all about. Monthly emergency training focuses on one group, one aspect at a time, but the annual exercise is geared toward pulling it all together, and the results will be dissected for weeks to come.

"We want to know when we get to the big catastrophe that everyone knows what their role is and that we can bring the city back to normal," Simmons said.

"It's really to help us to identify our strengths and our weaknesses," Annapolis Fire Chief David Stokes said as he walked through the staging area — the parking lot of the J. Albert Adams Academy, the Anne Arundel County public school that wasn't really leveled. "I have two pages of lessons I've learned."

Topping his list was the need to add someone to call relatives of people caught up in a crisis. "We need to establish a family liaison," Stokes said.

He learned that as a practical matter, only about 10 of the injured people who required emergency treatment at Anne Arundel Medical Center fit into a county rescue vehicle that supposedly can carry about twice that number. The capacity depends on the nature of the injuries. That left rescue workers calling for a city bus to transport the injured who hadn't been strapped onto backboards.

Nearby, the injured moaned and groaned. "What year is it?" a rescue worker asked volunteer Jane Willingham, as another paramedic evaluated her injuries. "Um, 2010?" she weakly answered.

On the sidewalk, a bloodied Tom Cagle — a retiree playing a man felled by flying debris while walking his dog — told rescuers he couldn't move. He later said the ride in the rescue vehicle was so bumpy that if he did have a back injury, he'd find someone to drive him to the hospital instead.

People being herded onto a shuttle bound for the makeshift shelter and lunch at the Pip Moyer Recreation Center were hardly cooperative.

"That baby smells! Do something!" someone bellowed from the bus as the mother of the bundle of fabric shouted for a diaper, a man repeated his demand for a bottle of water and a woman wailed.

Trish DeMuth, a nurse playing a visitor who spoke no English, kept asking for a telephone, showing police a list of phone numbers in the Czech Republic. She supposedly worked in Ocean City, and the previous night had partied so much in Annapolis that she didn't know where she was.

"In a real scenario, they'd be listening to me," Officer John Manning said with a sigh, having called for calm on the packed bus and radioed for a translator. "In the fake scenario, they're telling me to go for a walk."

There were, however, occasional light moments. The face of City Manager Mike Mallinoff — incident commander for the day — was superimposed on an image of the superhero Iron Man during a briefing in the Emergency Operations Center, where large screens also displayed maps.

There, information was updated and plans were adjusted. The governor declared a state of emergency; the National Guard was available. How many people were dead and injured was unclear, as rumors floated and confirmed numbers were updated. Power outages, uprooted trees, damaged buildings and disorderly conduct arrests were reported. The mayor was away, leaving Alderman Ian Pfeiffer as the public face of the city's response. Police ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

This was the third year — sort of — for the exercise, which involved more than 100 city and county workers as well as nearly 100 volunteers playing victims, said Simmons, the emergency operations chief. In 2010, the plan to test a hurricane response was abandoned because of the arrival of the real thing: Tropical Storm Nicole. Last year, the hurricane drill took place. Soon after, there was an earthquake and a hurricane.

"My city manager always get on my case about that," Simmons said. "Every time we plan something, something else happens."

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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