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By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson
133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
“It is the perfect example of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know,’ and it was invaluable training,” said Karen Brandt, director of human resources for the Summit Pacific Medical Center.
“It’s the simple things that bring comfort to people, like a tab on the end of the tape, or putting seals around suits where we gained the most knowledge,” she said, “and we need a lot more buckets.”
Comforts, best practices and a wealth of knowledge were exchanged June 11, at the small regional hospital located in Elma, Washington. The Kentucky National Guard’s CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), assisted the hospital staff with the set-up and use of Summit Pacific’s decontamination kit – the first time the staff ever opened the kit.
“This is the real run; I’ve never run water through it,” said Danny Scott, facilities manager and head of emergency operations. “This is our first opportunity to see it working.”
An opportunity that was important to the overall care the hospital can provide the roughly 15,000 citizens in the coverage area.
“We have a chemical plant here in town, so we may have to roll it out for a chemical emergency. Being rural, we have train tracks that come through, tanker fire or train accident that could bring us mass casualties,” Scott said. “I think those are the most realistic scenarios
“It’s hugely important because it brings a sense of value to the community that they haven’t seen in a long time,” Scott said about the small Washington town of Elma. “We see the need for good medical care in the community since we’ve arrived, so this lets them know we do care about our community and we want our community to feel safe and know we are prepared to respond.”
The Kentucky National Guard was in the Northern Oregon area for Cascadia Rising, an exercise that simulated a 9.0-magnitude earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It was the largest regional exercise of its kind with multiple Guard units from at least four states, numerous local, state and federal first responders and public safety officials participating in a large-scale disaster response effort.
After the Cascadia Rising exercise was complete, the KY-CERFP traveled north and volunteered services to the Grays Harbor County as a means to continue its training with non-military agencies through the Vigilant Guard, a series of exercises that test the Guard’s Homeland Response throughout the U.S. The KY-CERFP reached out to the community to set up the decontamination and medical training, along with search and rescue opportunities with the Sherriff and local Search and Rescue K9 groups.
“The Soldiers and Airmen of the CERFP are the tip of the spear when it comes to dedication to the mission,” said Air Guard Lt. Col. Chris Howell, 123rd Airlift Wing Medical Group and CERFP medical officer. “They know this could happen in their hometown and they are just as engaged and dedicated here as they would be at home.”
Howell said the training offered a unique opportunity for the CERFP decontamination and medical teams to fall in on a rural decontamination setup, which is a likely scenario during sustainment operations following a disaster with mass casualties.
“This is invaluable to our team to share these real-life experiences and collaborate with a civilian medical team inside their emergency department,” he said.
While the CERFP assisted with the setup of decontamination outside the hospital, business inside the emergency department (ED) and clinics resumed as normal. The only difference that citizens of Elma noticed was an increase of hustle and uniformed Service members going through the ED doors.
For Andrea Matkovich-Cox, a role player from Kenmore, Washington, the exercise proved “how unprepared we are as Washingtonians.
“My friends don’t even think about it,” she said. “They laughed when I told them I was doing this today, but it shows that the majority [of citizens] are ill prepared.
“If something happened, getting out would not be possible,” she said. “It’s good to know that people can be flown in here and they are going to be on the same page with our systems to be able to do what they have to do to provide us with care.”
Though FEMA regions are strategically set up for states close to an impact area to deploy for relief, the idea that Kentucky might be a responding state to Oregon or Washington isn’t far-fetched. With the contacts and networking done over the last week, the KY-CERFP is a phone-call away from those in need.