Keeping it real: Eagle Scout hopeful creates simulation for emergency responders
Photos courtesy of Simon To -– A member of the Allen Community Emergency Response Team helps a young “victim” escape a tornado-ravaged area in a staged disaster scene put together by Lowery Freshman Center student Brian To for his Eagle Scout project. More than 40 volunteers were adorned with bloody makeup and placed at random throughout the St. Jude’s Catholic Church education building Saturday morning for CERT members to find and rescue during the simulation.
It's 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. A tornado has just ripped through town. There are an estimated 40 to 50 injured persons in and around St. Jude's Catholic Church. Paramedics have still not arrived on scene, so it's up to the city of Allen's Community Emergency Response Team -- or CERT -- to navigate the destruction and stabilize the condition of those in need of immediate medical attention.
In the parking lot, there is a crashed school bus full of injured victims. Inside the building, treacherous obstacles, blocked doors and dangling live wires block the paths of incoming emergency workers. The 12-member team must find a way to keep each and every victim alive until paramedics and rescue workers can arrive on the scene to transport them to the hospital.
This was the fictional training scenario set up for CERT members by 15-year-old Brian To, a soon-to-be Allen High School sophomore, at St. Jude's Catholic Church this weekend. With help from the church, the city of Allen, Allen ISD, Boy Scout Troop 131 and members of the American Heritage Girls, Brian converted the perfectly intact church building into a tornado-ravaged danger zone, littered with injured victims in need of life-saving attention.
Brian was inspired to do the project, which he hopes will make him an Eagle Scout, by his father, CERT member Simon To. The simulation is intended to give CERT members a taste of what it might really be like in a high-stress, high-casualty disaster scenario. The cast of victims consisted of scouts, members of American Heritage Girls and other friends of the To family, both children and adults.
"Not too many scouts actually use a [CERT simulation] for their Eagle project," Brian said. "I thought maybe it would be good for the community, but also it's good for the troops to have a change of pace. There are a lot of preset projects that scouts usually do, so I thought it would be different."
Inside the building, stacks of boxes, disconnected wires, wood, carpet and piles of trash served as obstacles, while the cast was given a gory makeover by a volunteering special effects makeup artist, who provided realistic bruises, blood, internal organs and popped-out eyeballs.
In one particularly stress-inducing scenario, rescuers had to find a way to enter a room whose doors were blocked to save a baby, who could be heard crying on a recording coming from the room. A volunteer allowed his 5-month-old child to be used for the exercise, adding a chilling dose of reality to the proceedings.
"It really caught them off guard when they found the baby in the room," Brian said.
Meanwhile, more victims were present in the school bus, which was provided for the scenario by Allen ISD, as was a heavy mannequin, which rescuers were instructed to carry off the bus as a form of endurance training.
"Moving an injured person too much could kill them, so they had to figure out how they could carefully remove the body from the bus, which is not spacious," Brian said.
The proceedings were overseen by the Allen Fire Department, who has coordinated the Allen CERT program since its inception in 2006. After the simulation, CERT members were given an assessment of how they handled each situation.
"Allen doesn't have a lot of disasters going on, so I think even though it's been a team for awhile, they aren't able to experience that over and over again, so that's why this kind of training is so important," Simon said.
Prospective CERT members must complete nine training classes and complete a similar simulation to become members of the team. Members learn about disaster preparedness, basic emergency medical operations, search and rescue operations, disaster psychology and team organization during the course.
The CERT program started in the 1985 in Los Angeles, Calif. It was made available to communities nationwide by FEMA in 1993. It is partially funded by state and federal grants. According to the CERT websites, communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico have conducted training.