(Via Ho’okele News)
Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
Defense Media Activity Hawaii
Category 3 hurricanes can cause winds ranging from 111 to 130 mph, extensive inland flooding, and significant damage to infrastructure. Coalition, joint and civilian partners adapted and responded to a simulated hurricane scenario to test their combined humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) capability on July 11 as part of the 24th Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.
The HA/DR exercise took place at 20 different hospitals on five different islands and included more than 200 simulated casualties. Participants were required to medically stabilize, triage and transport the mock casualties to locations where they could receive the most appropriate treatment for their injury or illness.
Ken Kelly, Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) chief of emergency medicine, explained some of the benefits of training in a coalition environment.
“What we gain in terms of our skills is the ability to provide care for people who may not speak English or who may have an altered mental status and may not be able to respond to questions and tell you about their injuries,” he said. “This is common to most disaster scenarios, where each point along the pathway of ill or injured patients, their status may change and your staff has to be prepared to respond to that.”
Kelly said incorporating medical partners from the local community expanded the level of scope and quality of the exercise.
“This exercise reaches beyond the walk lines of TAMC and out into the community,” Kelly said. “The intent of the design of this disaster was to overwhelm primary and secondary and tertiary facilities so we would have to rely upon our colleagues in the Hawaii community, disaster medical assistance team [DMAT], and things that you don’t normally bring into play under duress.”
Edward Caballero, Hawaii DMAT paramedic, explained his role during the exercise and how DMAT contributed to HA/DR efforts in response to the aftermath of the simulated hurricane.
“After we have people triaged in a main collection area, those that need to be medically evacuated out to multiple hospitals will be brought to our facility where we reevaluate them, restabilize them, and then sort them with the help of the military and fly them to the facility that is the most appropriate for them,” he said.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Brandon Krahmer, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, helped pilot a CH-47F Chinook that transported simulated casualties during the HA/DR exercise.
“We’re trying to get ourselves ready to deploy in a joint maritime environment, operating with different forces from ships or land, which is something kind of unique to aviation,” he said. “We’re trying to work on our flexibility with the other branches of service so we can operate with anyone and in any environment, and we want to increase flexibility to perform any mission, whether it’s humanitarian aid and disaster relief all the way up through combat operations in the Pacific Region.”
The HA/DR exercise provided aviation units such as the 3-25 Combat Aviation Brigade with an opportunity to practice disaster response with a diverse team.
“What was unique about today was the transportation of simulated civilian injured personnel,” Krahmer said.
“We got to pick up people who were simulated casualties and fly them on our aircraft, which is something we would actually do real world. Today was the first time in a long time that a Chinook has landed at TAMC, so what that is going to do is it’s going to enable the movement of a large amount of personnel to receive medical treatment quicker,” Krahmer said.
Thomas Bookman, Pacific Regional Command emergency plans and operations director, explained the overall benefit of performing exercises of this scale.
“The goal is that we have synergy, that we have a means that we practice as we preach,” he said. “If you do a tabletop exercise, you can’t really see if you can move things and make things happen. Exercises like this are a multiplier for our community where the civilian and military population intermix.
“We’re living on an island, we’re joined at the hip, and we will always support each other, so this exercise should give the citizens of Hawaii a sense that if something does happen, the military and the civilian community will come together to treat the people who are injured or sick,” Book-man said.