RALEIGH — Bryan Sisk wore boots, a helmet and protective body gear as he looked over the men and women crowded beside a tent set up outside the Rex Hospital emergency department.
“If he’s able to walk, he’s a green,” called out Sisk, an emergency room nurse, to colleagues as they walked by pushing a human form on a gurney. “So let’s get him up and on his feet.”
Sisk and other staff members at Rex spent two hours Friday morning rehearsing for something they’ve never experienced before: a bomb explosion that injures and kills a large number of people.
“Of course, we hope these incidents never occur,” said Brian Quigley, an emergency physician at Rex. “But we say, expect the best and prepare for the worst.”
Friday’s rehearsal had been planned for months, but gained more urgency following the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon last week, participants said. Rex is less than two miles from the PNC Arena, Carter-Finley Stadium, the N.C. State Fairgrounds and the N.C. Museum of Art.
“You start to realize anywhere a lot of people are gathered could be a setting for mass casualties,” Sisk said.
The mock disaster was set up to represent a “dirty bomb” explosion at the State Fairgrounds.
Nursing students, hospital volunteers and others filled in as “victims,” who wore tags with lists of symptoms, including head trauma, heavy bleeding, nausea and stomach cramps. Some complained of a white powder that represented Bacillus anthraces, commonly known as anthrax, a potentially lethal bacteria that may have come from the bomb.
The ability to make quick judgments on patients’ physical conditions, known as triage, is one of the skills needed at a disaster scene, where resources are often in short supply. Doctors reviewed the symptoms and quickly sorted and labeled patients – “green” for less serious injuries, followed by yellow, red or – worst of all – black.
Patients showing signs of anthrax were all represented by lifelike dummies. They went directly into the emergency tent, where they were stripped and scrubbed by nurses and doctors in haz-mat suits before being allowed inside the emergency department doors.
Quigley said medical teams everywhere were impressed by the response to the marathon bombings.
“They did an excellent job,” Quigley said. “Every single person who made it to the hospital survived.”
Elaine Marshall, an emergency nurse who helped organize the mock crisis at Rex, said the close-knit community of emergency responders often share details of their experiences with one another.
“Within two days of the bombing, we were getting information from Boston about things that they had learned,” Marshall said.
She said a primary lesson reflects the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
“The take-home message for us was the fact that they had drilled it,” Marshall said.
Just as the staff at Rex Hospital was doing Friday.