NORTH ADAMS -- Reports of a major accident on Curran Highway involving the collision of a charter bus bound for Mohegan Sun and a dump truck carrying construction debris began filtering across local emergency airwaves Thursday morning -- but the calls for emergency responders weren't real.
The "accident," which grew to include a third vehicle and calls for patients needing to be airlifted to major trauma centers, was contained within the walls of St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, where the simulation of an accident with mass casualties was under way on Thursday.
Inside the parish center, accident "victims," wearing orange shirts and tags explaining their injuries, lay on the floor where they were attended to by emergency medical technicians or were interviewed by local police officers.
The simulation exercise, coordinated by the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee, was held as a way for emergency responders from around Northern Berkshire to fine-tune their interagency communication and coordination skills.
"This is an expansion of a table-top exercise we did in June 2012," Sharon Leary, exercise director, said. "This is the second step of the process -- a simulation with live play. We're hoping to expand this to a live version, with an actual bus at the scene in the future. We're currently trying to secure grant funding to do a live version, with actors in full make-up, near the end of August or beginning of September."
The scenario being played out began with a coach bus carrying 31 individuals traveling through the intersection near the new Walmart Supercenter. The driver of the bus misses a signal to stop by a police officer directing traffic and collides with a dump truck carrying debris from the store's construction site. It is later discovered that the police office and a jogger are hit by the bus and a pickup truck is also involved.
"Today's event is about finding the specific areas we can improve upon: communications, timing issues, how agencies respond when something is actually happening," she said. "We're testing our response plans and our interagency communication skills. We've included things like the possibility of hazardous materials being spilled and how we respond to that."
The drill also included scenarios that involved updating media outlets with pertinent information and coordinating care with North Adams Regional Hospital. NARH officials were also on hand, with a makeshift emergency room where accident victims were being treated based on the severity of their injuries.
"The whole exercise is about how we respond and the capabilities we have to handle both the emergency and public information being released," Paul Hopkins, NARH director of community relations, said. "We want to ensure that everyone is on the same page. One thing that I think I'll suggest later on is that the emergency group have a Facebook and Twitter page. I think we learned from the recent tractor-trailer truck accident in North Adams that information is going to make it onto social media sites almost immediately. We need to ensure that it's the correct information."
The simulation was funded by a grant from the Western Massachusetts Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council. Participants included the North Adams, Adams and Williamstown police departments, the Massachusetts State Police, the MCLA Public Safety Department, the North Adams Fire Department, the Adams Alert Hose Co., Village Ambulance Service, North Adams Ambulance Service, Adams Ambulance Service and emergency managers from Adams and Florida.
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