By Talia Gad
On December 30, 2012, a tour bus carrying 40 passengers lost control on an icy-portion of I-84 about 12 miles east of Pendleton. The bus spun out of control, broke through a guardrail, and skidded down the 200 foot embankment.
There were 9 fatalities, and 37 people were injured. The injuries included broken arms, legs, and ribs; a collapsed lung; eye injury and orbit fracture; and cuts, bruises, and internal injuries. Survivors were cared for at 10 different medical facilities throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Twenty victims being treated at nearby St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, OR.
The losses were indeed tragic, but the injuries could have been far greater were it not for the high-level of training and expertise of the response teams. Just two weeks before the accident, St. Anthony Hospital had conducted a Code Disaster drill. During that drill, the exercise scenario involved a bus overturned during high winds on an icy road – an eerie foreshadow that provided important training for the team.
“In reality, it isn’t ‘will a disaster happen,’ but ‘when will it happen,’” said Larry Blanc, Director of Communications at St. Anthony Hospital. “Drills really are useful. The staff knows exactly what their duties are since we had practiced our roles many times.”
Dean Marcum, HSPR’s Region 9 Health Care Liaison, agrees. “One of the biggest things that helped prepare the first responder and first receivers was past exercises and drilling on mass casualty for the past decade,” said Marcum. “Out here in rural America, we have to deal with incidents with a limited number of resources, and all response agencies need to know who their neighbors are and who they can count on during a crisis.”
The responders involved with the bus crash were skilled, collaborative, and quick, but they also believe that more can always be done. Immediately following the incident, response agencies started making plans for how to raise the bar of preparedness even higher.
In the health preparedness Region 9, agencies are looking at developing a regional emergency operations plan. Discussion is underway about emergency preparedness and response planning that will include Umatilla, Morrow, and Union Counties as well as Oregon and Washington States. The plan would detail the capabilities of each participant throughout the three counties and two states, and it would use agreements, memorandum of understanding, and communications plans to outline what each entity would be able to bring to an event.
Another resource in development is a detailed list that includes what supplies are available within the area. During large scale emergencies, responders need access to a range of supplies including heavy equipment, quantities of blankets, food and water, and special rescue equipment.
Advanced research and training is the key, especially in areas that rely on collaborative and unified preparedness among emergency response agencies and local businesses and industries. The hope is that there’ll be no more accidents like the one on Deadman’s Pass in December, but in the event that there is, this crew will be prepared.
For additional information, contact Dean Marcum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0856.
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