The City of South Lake Tahoe is preparing to conduct a large-scale disaster drill at Lake Tahoe Airport this month, one that will involve several agencies and dozens of vehicles and personnel.
During the Mass Casualty Incident training, emergency crews will be responding to a major aircraft accident with multiple casualties. Helicopters, buses, fire trucks, police vehicles, ambulances and more will be deployed in the simulation.
The training exercise is schedule for Aug. 25 at 10 a.m.
“This drill actually does a couple things for us,” South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Jeff Meston said. “One, it tests out our automatic mutual aid systems because it’s going to involve lots and lots of agencies. Second of all, it allows us to complete our tri-annual drill at the airport, which is an FAA requirement… And thirdly, it allows us to exercise our emergency operations plan.”
The city will test its Emergency Operations Center during the simulation, which was only partially tested during a recent citywide power outage in mid-July.
On a large scale, however, the operations center hasn’t been tested since the Angora Fire in 2007.
“This will be the first time we’ve tested the system in a very long time,” Meston said. “As you may have guessed, a lot of people have come and gone in the city. We have a lot of new department heads. We have a lot of new managers. So this is a great opportunity for us to do that.”
For the operation as a whole, Fire Captain and “Lego aficionado” Mark WyGant spent hours creating a Lego model of the airport to assist in planning and execution. Wygant constructed the model to scale. He even had to order pieces from Sweden to get the job done.
“It is a really helpful tool for us to be able to take our firefighters and emergency response crews and actually go out there and place apparatus and set up command posts and do triage,” Meston said.
About 45 people from the California Conservation Corps will play the roles of victims in the mock accident. Each will be given a script to act out so responders know where to send them.
“If they’re dead, their script is really simple,” the fire chief said. “If they’re not so dead, it’s a little more complex, and they’ll have some signs and symptoms to let the paramedics be able to do a triage process.”
Rescuers will decide where to send the victims during the drill. Two places patients will be sent are Barton Hospital and a Red Cross shelter, which will be activated at the city’s recreation center.
“We normally wouldn’t take patients to an evacuation center or shelter,” Meston said, “but we believe this is a great opportunity for us to order up buses and put people on buses and account for where they are and send them to the Red Cross Center, where we can kind of track that process.”
Meanwhile, firefighters, hazmat teams and other emergency personnel will be responding to a variety of situations set up at the airport, where a C-130 airplane will also be provided for training purposes.
Meston said the whole thing will be a “rather large” undertaking.
“This will be the first big test for us,” he said, “and I think we’re up for it.”