Crews train for disaster with hopes it never happens

Posted: 4:07 PM EDT Jun 13, 2012   Updated: 6:08 PM EDT Jun 13, 2012
Reading Hospital emergency drill

Emergency crews in Berks County are making sure they're ready when catastrophe strikes, and Wednesday responders were put to the test at Reading Hospital.

It was a large scale operation.

"We had police, fire and EMS here," James Bitler, Reading Hospital emergency management coordinator.

And staff wasted no time springing into action.

"We had a gas failure at our co-gen plant," explained Bitler. "The gas compressor exploded, we had multiple injuries, fatalities, we had damage to our structure, we had to move patients."

Bodies dotted the lawn, and an outside treatment zone was set up to tend to the wounded.

But it was all pretend. The event was just a drill.

"The biggest thing here is for everybody to get the chance to practice all their roles and what they do, and to get to know the people and the actors in the game here so to speak," said Tom Bausher, West Side Regional Emergency Management Agency.

They do this several times a year, so when real disaster hits, rescuers will know how to work together smoothly.

"It tests our capabilities for communications for response capabilities," said Bitler. "You get to interact with people that you usually don't interact with."

The drill also forced crews to work outside of their comfort zones.

"We know how to function in the emergency department, we have to practice working outside of the emergency department," said Dr. Duane Siberski, Regional EMS Director.

And no one expected it to go perfectly.

"This is a good thing to do," said Bausher. "It's a learning experience. If we don't practice it, we don't get to learn from it."

"Our feedback when we debrief later on will show us where we need to improve," explained Siberski. "What we found as a learning experience here will help us correct those mistakes so they don't occur in a real situation."