- BY FRIDA GHITIS
In previous years, I have seen heart-pounding simulations of a nationwide emergency response to a smallpox attack and a radiological bomb. Last month, authorities staged a dramatic preparedness exercise where the scenario flowed from a fictional airplane crashing into a residential area, causing hundreds of casualties — all simulated. This so-called Mega Mass Casualty Incident, the type of disaster that occurs without warning, exceeding the capabilities of a single municipality or region, tests the limits of medical, security and other emergency systems.
Some would call the drills alarmist, but disasters of this scale have occurred many times, in the United States on 9/11, in the London bombings of 2005 and the Madrid attacks of 2004 among them.
As Dr. Amir Blumenfeld, who spent past eight months preparing this exercise said, “You need to be prepared in advance. You cannot just wait to react when the event happens.”
Emergency officials from dozens of countries, who were in Israel to attend the emergency preparedness conference, IPRED, observed the exercise with rapt attention. The simulation was strikingly realistic. It started in a repurposed former military base in central Israel, not far from Ben Gurion, the country’s main airport.
Initially, the lot where the plane “crashed” in the simulation stood behind a screen showing a picture of modern apartment buildings. Suddenly, a loud explosion shook the ground, the screen fell away revealing collapsed buildings, real airplane engines still smoldering atop the rubble and actors displaying all manner of wounds, crying out for help. Some were walking in a daze, others helping nearby casualties move away from the smoldering ruins.
Secondary explosions struck repeatedly, adding to the cacophony of the disaster, with the constant wailing of ambulances and other emergency vehicles arriving in an endless stream.
Before long, workers from the Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, started rushing in, removing the wounded and the dead. Police, firefighters, even journalists started appearing. It was a scene of seeming chaos, but behind it personnel from a host of agencies followed protocols developed over years of planning, drills and real-life disasters. Hundreds of casualties received attention, with medics performing triage and providing basic medical care before evacuations.