Simulated train wreck brings out Mat Su responders

Hundreds of emergency workers and volunteers joined in a mass casualty exercise in Palmer over the weekend. The simulated train – school bus wreck tested the abilities of all public safety personnel in the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Mat Su emergency responders attend to "victims" of a school bus wreck at Alaska shield exercises in Palmer on Saturday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA - Anchorage)
Mat Su emergency responders attend to “victims” of a school bus wreck at Alaska shield exercises in Palmer on Saturday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

The simulated emergency call came in at 1:45 pm on a Saturday. An Alaska Railroad train, hauling Princess cars full of tourists, had just t-boned a school bus full of kids. It was all fake, of course, but emergency personnel from Palmer police and fire department sprang into action as if it was actually happening

A convoy of official vehicles.. ambulances, fire trucks, haz-mat response, even a Borough communications van showed up within minutes at the site just off the Glenn Highway.

Passengers staggered off the train’s passenger cars, clutching bloodied head wounds that looked remarkably real thanks to some behind the scenes makeup artist

A women knelt weeping over a mannequin…. representing a deceased wreck victim.. as an Alaska National Guard helicopter circled overhead, preparing to land at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.

But for a few mannequins scattered around the grass, all the “victims” were played by live people, even the dead body hauled out of the bus in a body bag.

Medics hovered over the “injured”, administering life-saving triage in the field, until the “victim” could be transported to a hospital.

Bill Gamble, the Borough’s Emergency Services director, says the scenario involved as many contingencies as possible.

“It’s actually a statewide exercise that is going on, and they are held every two years. This year what we are simulating is a cyber-terrorist attack that has affected our utilities and our communications systems. And it actually caused a problem here on the railroad tracks and what we had here is a train versus bus accident is what we are simulating, that caused a haz-mat spill.”

"Injured". Are taken off an Alaska rr train during. Alaska shield exercises in Palmer on Saturday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA - Anchorage)
“Injured”. Are taken off an Alaska rr train during. Alaska shield exercises in Palmer on Saturday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

Gamble says Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson sent a haz-mat team to respond to the simulated toxic spill. The two day exercise started at the Borough planning table, although it incorporates all manner of response personnel, including the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are coordinating with state agencies, military agencies, law enforcement agencies. We are all working on this together, so it is really a time for us to practice our coordination skills and how we coordinate and work with each other. ”

The simulated cyber attack theoretically shut down computers in all Mat Su communities including Chickaloon Village. The exercise included four school evacuations, involved local hospitals and even brought in amateur radio operators. The exercise tests emergency responders capability in a number of core areas.