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Salem prepares for emergency crisis drill

Posted by Terri Ogan  May 21, 2013 02:57 PM

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The city of Salem is gearing up for a crisis, a staged crisis that is.

As required by the Federal Railroad Administration, the MBTA will conduct its annual commuter rail emergency response exercise in Salem.

The real-life emergency drill is set to take place between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sunday June 2. The drill itself is expected to last a little over an hour, with two additional hours for preparation and a post-exercise briefing.

Working closely with Salem public safety officials, the MBTA has designed the drill to establish a learning environment for public safety personnel to exercise emergency response plans, policies, and procedures as they pertain to a commuter rail train evacuation in a tunnel environment.  Salem was chosen because it is the only station on the line with a tunnel, according to officials. Last year, the drill was conducted in Waltham.

Salem Police Chief David Cody said the the scenario will play out in a “Salem Halloween festivities” environment.  Thus far there are about 110 local "volunteer actors" signed up to participate in the drill. Each volunteer will be dressed up in costumes riding the train, when they will be abruptly notified of an emergency in the tunnel. The train will come to a stop, triggering the crisis drill. Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) officials will then work together to remove the "riders" from the train.

"What we're really testing is communications within our city," Cody said. "The ambulance provider will be testing how to set up a staging area for mass casualties and the police will be testing their investigation capabilities."

Once the drill begins, medical personnel will place the necessary "victims" on backboards, and "treat" minor cuts, and broken arms. EMTs will setup a triage for people and treat them as if they're going to be shipped to a hospital. Police officers will begin investigating the situation as if it were really happening.

In order to garner volunteers for the drill, the MBTA has sent out flyers to local colleges, nursing schools and EMT classes.

Randy Clarke, senior director of security and emergency management for the MBTA, said he expects the drill to go well.

"Emergency management is a continuous cycle of improvement," Clarke said. "There are lessons to be learned and that's what this exercise will do. It'll further educate local police and fire to handle these types of situations. It's going to continue to build relationships between local police and fire. It's really about partnerships and communication and working throughout those types of protocols."

Clarke added that the drill, which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security, will cost between $10,000 and $15,000. This amount includes setup, staging, the drill itself, the short review afterwards, overtime for authorities, extra buses and holding the train in place, among other things.

The drill is scheduled in a time period between two trains, but the MBTA will have two buses ready in the event the drill runs longer than expected.

"It's part of our continuous program," Clark said. "This is probably a little extra sensitive for people because of what happened last month. We're working on getting as many employees as possible engaged and we're preparing for all hazards that could happen."

Other local public safety officials, including the fire chiefs in Danvers and Marblehead, will act as drill evaluators. Once the exercise is finished, an MBTA official will take all their notes and create an after-action report.

Terri Ogan can be reached at oganglobe@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter.

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