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How Would Utah Fare In A Disaster? Agencies Try To Prepare

From hurricanes to mass shootings to forest fires, multiple disasters have struck the United States in recent months. Earlier today, hospital systems, local law enforcement and EMS did a mass-casualty training drill in Salt Lake City to test how Utah would fare in a disaster. 

Peter DeWeerd is helping manage chaos at St. Mark’s Hospital. "Go, go, go!" he shouts as an ambulance pulls up to the emergency entrance. DeWeerd is a physician here. He and a dozen nurses in teal scrubs triage patients dressed like they’re coming from a biohazard scene or a mass shooting.

"Shootings. 300 expected. No chemical exposure. Coming from Camp Williams. That’s all we know," he says, calling off stats of the unfolding emergency.  

In this scenario the hospital will see upwards of 50 patients, arriving in ambulances from nearby Camp Williams. When they arrive they’re wearing torn shirts, they’re soaking wet or they have make-up head wounds. Many are nursing students volunteering from Westminster College.

DeWeerd says this kind of disaster training helps them plan for how they would communicate with multiple hospitals and emergency response agencies.

"Certainly what happened in Las Vegas, God forbid that happened here, we would anticipate that there would be people going to multiple, multiple hospitals," DeWeerd says. 

Jason Nicholl is the battalion chief of the medical division for South Salt Lake Fire Department.

"We’ve been planning this drill for about six months that incorporates all of those different aspects. The car, the bomb, hazmat type of situation, as well as a shooter that affects two, three, four, 500 people, so that we can surge-test our entire system," Nicholl says. 

He says the shooting that took place in Las Vegas earlier this month was too recent to incorporate into this scenario. But he says it builds on some 60 smaller drills they’ve done in the past.

While they’ll never know exactly what to expect, he says, events like this help them plan their response and mitigate as much risk as possible. 

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