40 agencies participate in full-scale mock disaster drill in Fort Worth

Posted Saturday, Nov. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Peering into a 10-foot trench, the firefighters shouted to the victims.

Immediately, they learned that the driver of a black car swerved, struck a construction worker and drove into the trench. The driver was trapped inside the car, the construction worker underneath it.

To rescue the victims, the firefighters would need to stabilize the trench, then the car. They began laying down plywood and sheeting to secure the rocks, before dragging heavy stretchers to the scene.

“This could happen on any street anytime,” said Steven Coffman, program manager for Texas Task Force Urban Search and Rescue. “This is a very realistic situation, and it’s quite challenging.”

The mock disaster was part of Urban Shield, a full-scale multidiscipline disaster drill that tested the region’s ability to respond to terrorist attacks and other emergencies that could happen simultaneously throughout North Texas.

On Saturday, personnel from more than 40 police, fire and emergency agencies gathered at Tarrant County College Northwest Campus to participate in the drills, which included rescuing car crash victims, responding to a plane crash and saving people from a collapsed building.

Urban Shield aims to help first responders prepare for large-scale disasters, while enhancing the regional response to such incidents, organizers said. The North Central Texas Council of Governments sponsored the $275,000 training through a federal Homeland Security grant.

Urban Shield is a national first responder training program conducted by California-based Cytel Group.

“In an event like 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, the question is can we work together to coordinate our response,” said Coffman, who served as a spokesman for the training. “These exercises will help us communicate with each other, share techniques, learn how to use equipment.”

Police and fire departments from Fort Worth, Arlington, Northeast Tarrant County and Garland, among others, joined the training.

Last week, Urban Shield sparked controversy when about 25 people protested the drills at an Arlington City Council meeting, calling them a “militarization of the police.”

But Haltom City Fire Capt. David Chilcutt, who led the trench exercise, said first responders have few opportunities to practice alongside responders in other cities and counties. This sort of training would be crucial in a large-scale emergency.

“In a disaster, this is exactly what we would be doing,” Chilcutt said. “We would be working across city, county and state lines. This is critical training.”

Standing near the site of a mock plane crash, Kit Marshall watched rescuers document every broken piece and plane part and tend to the injured victims.

Marshall, community liaison for emergency preparedness in Parker County, said the exercises will only boost the readiness of area agencies.

“I believe in training,” Marshall said. “It is important for us to be ready for anything. This is about honing the skills we use every day.”

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056 Twitter: @sarahbfw

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