Working together in disaster simulation

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Scenarios staged to coordinate action to reduce social vulnerability, risks

HELP IS ON THE WAY: Pupils ham it up as the ‘victims’ of a bus accident on Port Alfred’s Nico Malan Bridge, a simulation to test coordinated rescue response efforts in times of disaster Picture: JON HOUZET
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Pupils ham it up as the ‘victims’ of a bus accident on Port Alfred’s Nico Malan Bridge, a simulation to test coordinated rescue response efforts in times of disaster Picture: JON HOUZET

A SIMULATED disaster on the Nico Malan Bridge last Friday to test coordinated rescue response had residents and commuters thinking a real accident had occurred.

The scenario was a head-on collision between a fuel tanker and a bus filled with school pupils. SAPS and Ndlambe traffic department cordoned off the bridge at the robots and the Pascoe Crescent intersection, and set up a joint operations centre to coordinate rescue efforts.

Traffic was diverted along Pascoe Crescent and Main Street, the congestion adding a dimension of reality to the simulation. The rain also became a factor.

The wreck of an old bus proved useful to stage the “accident”, and one of Ndlambe’s water tankers served as the vehicle carrying “flammable material”. The bus had been abandoned in Nemato and was a bane in the life of residents who complained it was used as a hangout by vagrants and criminals. They were happy to see it removed and put to good use

REALISTIC: Firefighters work to free an ‘injured’ pupil trapped on the bus Picture: JON HOUZET
REALISTIC: Firefighters work to free an ‘injured’ pupil trapped on the bus Picture: JON HOUZET

Pupils from local schools were recruited to play the bus accident victims, and were especially made up to appear to have certain injuries, making for an early grisly Halloween. They played theirs part enthusiastically, some lying in the road and others on the bus, moaning and wailing.

Four Stenden South Africa students volunteered to play pupils thrown from the bus into the Kowie River, although the simulation only required them to begin floating from the Port Alfred Ski-boat Club jetty on the incoming tide. All wore lifejackets.

Fire and rescue vehicles quickly appeared, with firefighters tackling the “blazing” tanker and scattered fires while paramedics and ambulance assistants from the provincial ambulance service, Gardmed and Holistic EMS tended to the victims.

Within 14 minutes, NSRI volunteers had responded in their rescue craft to locate and pick up the four students floating in the Kowie River.

Ndlambe Municipality’s river patrol craft assisted.

An ambulance was dispatched to pick up the victims from the NSRI at their jetty.

LIFE SAVERS: NSRI volunteers transfer a ‘victim’ to a waiting ambulance Picture: JON HOUZET
LIFE SAVERS: NSRI volunteers transfer a ‘victim’ to a waiting ambulance Picture: JON HOUZET

After dousing the “blaze”, firefighters used the jaws of life to free a pupil “trapped” on the bus.

Pupils were assigned cards detailing their specific “injury” which paramedics had to evaluate to determine the appropriate emergency care and reference for further treatment at the hospital, which was also included in the exercise.

MultiSecurity and Kowie Towing also provided assistance in the simulation, and Stenden’s disaster management students observed.

The simulation was overseen by officials from Sarah Baartman District Municipality as part of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, a global framework established within the United Nations to promote action to reduce social vulnerability and risks of natural hazards and related technological and environmental disasters.

“They had been planning it for about three months,” said independent evaluator Patrick Macfarlane, who evaluated rescue response during the simulation.

Macfarlane, who has been involved in disaster management since the 1980s, said it was a successful exercise.

“I’m very pleased with how it went. Everyone worked together well,” he said. “There were shortcomings obviously, but that’s why we need these exercises and we learn from them. It’s been a long time since there was an exercise in Ndlambe.”

About 100 personnel were involved in the simulation.

Sarah Baartman and Ndlambe informed Murray and Roberts about the plan and they came to the table by removing stop and go’s on the R72 that day, to ease traffic flow.

The biggest gripe, when locals learned it was just an exercise, was about being inconvenienced by congestion in Friday and month-end traffic.

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