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Simulation on Friday will test response skills in south-central Kansas

A taste of terrorism is coming to Wichita. Explosions, fire and confusion will rattle downtown Friday morning as a three-day disaster simulation starts.

The simulation, sponsored by the University of Kansas Medical Center and the South Central Kansas Homeland Security Council, is intended to help emergency service and medical personnel learn how to respond and treat mass casualties in a disaster -- whether it s caused by terrorists or nature.

As the simulation unfolds, officials say, first responders and emergency service workers will discover that the destruction wasn t caused by Mother Nature.

Training began Saturday at the Sedgwick County Emergency Operations Center just south of Main and Murdock, drawing more than 50 dispatchers and emergency management officials from around the region -- plus government officials from Armenia.

They re being taught how to set up and run an emergency operations center at the site of a disaster, said John Holgerson, president of Rescue Training Associates, a Florida-based company that has assisted after Sept. 11, the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Katrina.

Most of what they re trained to deal with is resolved in an hour or less, Holgerson said of dispatchers. But when you re dealing with major disasters, you re talking days, weeks...

It can even take years, as victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast can attest.

The simulation that begins at 9 a.m. Friday will continue until about noon Oct. 21.

We want them to get what we call the 4 o clock stare, Holgerson said of that blank look that settles in on dispatchers who have to push on after the initial adrenaline rush and go without sleep.

It s one thing to hear about it, he said. It s another to experience it.

The simulation will help them learn how to cope with the long hours and remain effective, he said.

Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel will receive training on how to handle traumatic injuries at the scene of an attack, including treating victims trapped in rubble.

The old mind-set of pulling victims from collapsed buildings and rushing them to the hospital is being given another look, Holgerson said, because so many of the victims have died.

First responders will also be taught to look for signs that the debris or explosion may be the result of terrorism, Holgerson said, and to be on the alert for more events.

There may be more to the situation than it appears, he said.

Terrorists have been known to set off small bombs to draw emergency responders, and then plan secondary, larger explosions targeting them.

At least with Greensburg, you knew it was over, Holgerson said, because the tornado that struck the town had dissipated.

Kansas doesn t have to be told how valuable this training can be, said Dale Grube, associate dean of continuing education for the medical center.

We ve had three 300-year disasters in a six-month period, Grube said, meaning disasters that are projected to occur once every 300 years.

Those disasters were the ice and snow storm that paralyzed much of western Kansas, the EF-5 tornado that killed 11 people and destroyed almost all of Greensburg on May 4, and the flood and oil spill that struck southeast Kansas in late June. Two other people were killed May 4 by other tornadoes created by the storm that generated the Greensburg tornado.

The timing of this event really could not be better, Grube said.

Every disaster or attack offers unique challenges, Holgerson said, but effective responses have three things in common: solid communications, effective logistics and good operational planning.

You can t just have a Plan A, he said. You d better have a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com

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