Imagine you’re on holiday at one of Barbados’ hotels; or you’re on a pleasure cruise with a group of friends; or a patient at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) when an earthquake hits. In an instant, everything around you descends into destruction and injury – possibly death. What do you do?
These scenarios were among several that played out over the weekend during Exercise Tradewinds 2017, as local, regional and international first responders practised their responses to natural disasters.
On Saturday morning, the decommissioned Glendairy Prison was the site of one of the simulation exercises. ‘Hotel Glendairy Meadows’ was the scene of a mass casualty after the building collapsed, triggered by one of several aftershocks from an earthquake which struck earlier.
Medical personnel, the police, military, fire and ambulance services were on the scene to tend to the “guests”, some of whom suffered severe injury.
One of the medical personnel who attended to the casualties, Dr Shantel Young-Boyce, Senior Registrar of the Accident and Emergency Department of the QEH, said she was pleased with the response and the performance of all involved.
“We would normally have actual mass casualties and we tend to respond very well, but the amount of victims we would have is not as much as this. So this just helps us to fine-tune our skills so that when we actually have scenes like this we will know what is expected of us.
“It is necessary. The only way you can improve is to test your system. So, at least testing it twice a year would be adequate enough for us to say that this is what we can do, and to see what will be needed if necessary,” she said.
One of the members of the Regional Observer Assessment Team David Byer told Barbados TODAY he too was satisfied with the exercise.
“[It] has gone quite smoothly according to the principles of mass casualty management, a multi-agency approach using fire, ambulance, medical staff, police and the military. Certainly it is heartening to see everybody come together and do their role,” he said.
Later in the day, the exercise moved to Consett Bay in St John, where members of the Barbados, Canadian, French and US Coast Guards mounted the evacuation of over 100 people from that coastal community.
The simulation exercises wrapped up on Sunday with a search and rescue operation in Holetown after partygoers on board the Jolly Roger found themselves in distress in the water. Another rescue mission, this time land-based, was also held at Chalky Mount, St Andrew, following a landslide earlier in the morning.
The simulated disasters were prompted by seismic activity across the Caribbean in recent times.
Unlike some of her Caribbean neighbours, Barbados has so far been fortunate not to have experienced a massive natural disaster. However, local officials have recognized the need for citizens and first responders to be prepared for any eventuality.
Co-director of Exercise Tradewinds 2017 Kerry Hinds told Barbados TODAY that this year’s event achieved its goal of highlighting the strengths and weaknesses in the system.
“The inter-agency coordination is always a strength that we in Barbados have – all the agencies coming together and working to ensure that the various operations within the scenarios came off well,” she said.
“There were a number of areas I found that we will definitely need to work on. It was an opportunity for persons to practise their plans and procedures and, of course, an opportunity for us now to improve on those standard operating procedures and the plans that agencies have in place,” added Hinds, who is also Director of the Department of Emergency Management.
She was also full of praise for the volunteers who participated in the event, saying they contributed to its success.
“It was excellent to see the public coming out and volunteering to be part of the Tradewinds experience. They got to see from the victims’ perspective what the emergency operations look like, and . . . I hope it was an opportunity for them to better appreciate what we as disaster management personnel and emergency response personnel and the security forces, [do in] our jobs on a daily basis, and what we have to go through,” Hinds said.
Chief of Staff of the Barbados Defence Force Colonel Glynne Grannum also lauded the work of the volunteers.
“The Barbadian public that we serve . . . will be richer for your contribution. We’re very, very grateful. Thanks for coming out, for your commitment, for your bravery,” Grannum said.
The second leg of Exercise Tradewinds will be held in Trinidad from June 13-17.