this is a test

First responders have a saying when it comes to responding to emergencies: “The first five minutes dictates the next five hours.” Mt. Lebanon, like many larger cities, tries to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. On a Saturday this month, Mt. Lebanon will be testing its capacity to respond to a mass casualty incident that, it goes without saying, we hope never happens. The municipality has had a number of these drills in the past, but this is the most comprehensive one in a while.

Previous drills have involved several municipal departments; one in 2009 extended to include Columbia Gas. This month’s exercise will be a mass casualty event that will feature participation from, at a minimum, the Mt. Lebanon School District, St. Clair Hospital and Medical Rescue Team South.

Platoon Chief Chris Buttlar, Mt. Lebanon Fire Department’s operations and emergency management coordinator, is orchestrating the drill. Along with testing the department’s fire suppression and command systems, and practicing activation of the communitywide emergency operations center, Buttlar wants the drill to offer the other stakeholders a chance to exercise their emergency plans.

Although we don’t want to reveal too many details now, the scenario is one that will involve an accident and casualties at a Mt. Lebanon school. Cissy Bowman, comunications director for Mt. Lebanon School District, says the district wants to test its off-site evacuation procedure, and its plans for reunification of children and parents following an emergency.

Todd Pritchard, Medical Rescue director, wants to test his team’s mass casualty incident management plans, and Vernard Campbell, St. Clair Hospital’s emergency management coordinator, wants to test the hospital’s surge capability, especially in moving patients from the emergency room to other locations.

“We’re pretty comfortable with the ER’s surge capacity, but we want to get them involved in pushing patients to other units,” says Campbell. The fire department also wants to use the drill as a way to see the benefits and drawbacks of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

No school students will be involved in the drill. As the event draws nearer, Mt. Lebanon will send LeboAlerts regarding the specifics, and residents who live in the affected area will receive fliers with more complete information so they do not mistake the drill for an actual event.