by Dennis Ryan
November 3, 2000
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Police and fire department personnel contemplate responses during the MASCAL drill
The fire and smoke from the downed passenger aircraft billows from the Pentagon courtyard. Defense Protective Services Police seal the crash sight. Army medics, nurses and doctors scramble to organize aid. An Arlington Fire Department chief dispatches his equipment to the affected areas.
Don Abbott, of Command Emergency Response Training, walks over to the Pentagon and extinguishes the flames. The Pentagon was a model and the "plane crash" was a simulated one.
The Pentagon Mass Casualty Exercise, as the crash was called, was just one of several scenarios that emergency response teams were exposed to Oct. 24-26 in the Office of the Secretaries of Defense conference room.
On Oct. 24, there was a mock terrorist incident at the Pentagon Metro stop and a construction accident to name just some of the scenarios that were practiced to better prepare local agencies for real incidents.
To conduct the exercise, emergency personnel hold radios that are used to rush help to the proper places, while toy trucks representing rescue equipment are pushed around the exercise table.
A plane crash is simulated inside the cardboard courtyard of a surprisingly realistic-looking model Pentagon. This "tabletop" exercise was designed to help emergency relief personnel better prepare for disasters when they occur.
Cards are then passed out to the various players designating the number of casualties and where they should be sent in a given scenario.
To conduct the exercise, a medic reports to Army nurse Maj. Lorie Brown a list of 28 casualties so far. Brown then contacts her superior on the radio, Col. James Geiling, a doctor in the command room across the hall.
Geiling approves Brown's request for helicopters to evacuate the wounded. A policeman in the room recommends not moving bodies and Abbott, playing the role of referee, nods his head in agreement.
"If you have to move dead bodies to get to live bodies, that's okay," Abbott says as the situation unfolds .
Geiling remarked on the importance of such exercises.
"The most important thing is who are the players?" Geiling said. "And what is their modus operandi?"
Brown thought the exercise was excellent preparation for any potential disasters.
"This is important so that we're better prepared," Brown said. "This is to work out the bugs. Hopefully it will never happen, but this way we're prepared."
An Army medic found the practice realistic.
Police and fire department personnel contemplate responses during the MASCAL drill.
"You get to see the people that we'll be dealing with and to think about the scenarios and what you would do," Sgt. Kelly Brown said. "It's a real good scenario and one that could happen easily."
A major player in the exercise was the Arlington Fire Department.
"Our role is fire and rescue," Battalion Chief R.W. Cornwell said. "We get to see how each other operates and the roles and responsibilities of each. You have to plan for this. Look at all the air traffic around here."
Each participant was required to fill out an evaluation form after the training exercise.
"We go over scenarios that are germane to the Pentagon," Jake Burrell of the Pentagon Emergency Management Team said. 'You play the way you practice. We want people to go back to their organizations and look at their S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) and see how they responded to any of the incidents."
Burrell has coordinated these exercises for four years and he remarked that his team gets better each year.
Abbott, in his after action critique, reminded the participants that the actual disaster is only one-fifth of the incident and that the whole emergency would run for seven to 20 days and might involve as many as 17 agencies.
"The emergency to a certain extent is the easiest part," Abbott said. He reminded the group of the personal side of a disaster. "Families wanting to come to the crash sight for closure."
In this particular crash there would have been 341 victims.