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Are You Ready for a Bridge Collapse in Your Community?

When the interstate bridge collapsed into sections and fell into the Mississippi River in just four seconds during rush hour on August 1, incident commanders were thrust into a scene reminiscent of an earthquake. They were faced with vehicles on, below and under the structure; tons of concrete and twisted metal; vehicle fires; hazardous materials; and multiple dead and wounded.

If faced with a similar disaster in your region, here are 20 tips to help you keep your sanity and maintain control of your incident:

  1. Have a plan that s well-practiced, simple and easy to remember.
  2. Make sure crews know alternate routes to and from the scene.
  3. Designate treatment, staging and transportation areas on each side of an access point of a divided incident.
  4. Have radio frequencies that your mutual aid services can easily access and communicate on.
  5. Designate frequencies for ambulance staging, on-scene control and radio communications from the Transportation Branch to area hospitals.
  6. Designate and use helicopter landing zones. Send the worst patients out by air.
  7. Don t overload nearby hospitals with minor injuries. Send these patients to more distant hospitals to lesson the burden on the closer facilities.
  8. Use triage tags even if you don t think you re getting overwhelmed by patients.
  9. Appoint safety officers early at large incidents. Personnel do strange things and attempt unusual rescues when their adrenaline peaks and common sense decreases.
  10. Know how to access non-traditional rescue boats, have water flow controlled or slowed upstream, and have rescue ropes placed across water flow areas for floating victims to grab onto.
  11. Stop shipping if victims are in danger of being injured and incoming rescue boats are being delayed. Instead, deploy shore watch and waterway patrols downstream to spot and rescue floating victims.
  12. Have a stockpile of spare batteries available. (Your existing normal use batteries will die on you sooner than you think.)
  13. Alert your hospitals ASAP so they can prepare their facilities, bring out equipment stockpiles and hold over (or call in) staff.
  14. Initiate a Staging Officer as soon as you declare a major incident. Vehicles will begin arriving sooner than expected.
  15. Make sure your vehicle IDs can be seen on a 360 degree basis to help the staging and operations officials position and call up your units.
  16. Gain control of incoming (dispatch and non-invited ) ambulances. Everybody wants to come to the big one and will self-dispatch.
  17. Treat all major scenes as a crime scene until it s determined otherwise.
  18. Establish inner and outer crowd control and safety perimeters to minimize and control responding personnel and bystanders.
  19. Know where to obtain heavy wreckers, cranes, auxiliary lighting, shoring, port-a-johns and tents for an extended operation.
  20. Don t forget to police, hydrate and rehab your personnel. In situations involving water, be alert for hypothermia, even during warm weather.

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