Cue the disaster: Preparing for an emergency scenario

Everywhere you look, there is chaos. Some people have severe burns, and other clutch at deep wounds on their arms and legs. Dozens more wander around in shock, disoriented and withdrawn. Even some first responders have been injured by the intensity of the blast, which has rocked a 25-story apartment building and everyone in it. It’s hard to know where to begin to help, but luckily, that’s exactly the reason for this mock disaster.

Welcome to Sunnybrook’s mass exercise, which this year recreated the Wellesley Fire, a massive 6-alarm blaze that gutted a Toronto highrise in 2010. Several Ontario hospitals, and a wide array of health care disciplines came together to play out the horrifying scenes on a cool Saturday in March. “SARS really put emergency preparedness on the forefront of our minds,” says Dr. Laurie Mazurik, the grand maestro of this event (known officially as the Strategic Lead of Sunnybrook’s Disaster Emergency Preparedness). “It made me and others think we certainly need to prepare for future events, as this wouldn’t be the last.”

So, as if in a Hollywood movie set, the cast was prepared well in advance. Actors were given their roles, and played them out on a specially designated floor at Centennial College. This giant disaster playhouse was mocked up to include an emergency room, critical care unit, mini operating room, family information area and command centre. And let me tell you, with people screaming, crying and made up to look truly injured, it was easy to forget this was just a training exercise. But that’s a good thing. When preparing for the worst-case scenario, after all, you want to bring out the best in people.

The idea of disaster training was born here at Sunnybrook in 2004, and started out as an engaging simulation exercise for medical residents. But as the popularity of the event grew, so did the realization this was a great way to prioritize speedy care and smooth patient flow. It has since grown to include preparation for terrorist attacks, mass pandemics, school shootings and even the G8 Summit, and will be used in advance of the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Pardon the pun, but it all goes to show that practice makes perfect, even in the most imperfect of circumstances.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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