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Fatal bus accident tests community preparedness and inspires additional planning
Bus crash response

By Talia Gad 

On Dec. 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.

Nine people died 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. Ten medical facilities throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho cared for the survivors. Nearby St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, treated 20 victims.

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 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 responders 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 response agencies also believe that more can always be done. Immediately following the incident, they 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 using agreements, memoranda of understanding and communications plans to outline each entity's available resources for an event.

Another resource in development is a detailed list of supplies 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 no more accidents like the one on Deadman’s Pass in December will occur, but if there is one, this crew will be prepared.

For additional information, contact Dean Marcum at or 541-966-0856.


CNN report

KTVB report   

OPB report

Next: “Le Omelette:” a recipe for a collaborative database

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