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Exercises test medical response of 123rd Airlift Wing, VA after major earthquake

Volunteers for the National Disaster Medical System carry simulated patients off a C-130 during a earthquake-response exercise held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with volunteers from multiple agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, NDMS was created to manage the federal government’s overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Volunteers for the National Disaster Medical System carry simulated patients off a C-130 during a earthquake-response exercise held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with volunteers from multiple agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, NDMS was created to manage the federal government’s overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Paul Beard (left), a mental health professional at the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, and Troy Colón, an assistive technology professional at the Louisville VA hospital, carry a simulated patient off a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the capabilities of government agencies following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Paul Beard (left), a mental health professional at the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, and Troy Colón, an assistive technology professional at the Louisville VA hospital, carry a simulated patient off a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the capabilities of government agencies following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Rogers (left) and 1st Lt. Thomas Hagan of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group examine a simulated plane-crash victim during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Rogers (left) and 1st Lt. Thomas Hagan of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group examine a simulated plane-crash victim during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Kelli Morris, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, applies moulage makeup to Lee Hyman to simulate a head laceration in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Kelli Morris, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, applies moulage makeup to Lee Hyman to simulate a head laceration in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Lee Hyman, a volunteer for the National Disaster Medical System, gets a simulated head laceration applied to his scalp by moulage artist Kelli Morris in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NDMS was created to manage the federal government’s overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Lee Hyman, a volunteer for the National Disaster Medical System, gets a simulated head laceration applied to his scalp by moulage artist Kelli Morris in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NDMS was created to manage the federal government’s overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Dale Winningham, a volunteer for the National Disaster Medical System, practices labored breathing in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., as patient-simulation expert Gina Wesley instructs him on how he would act if he had a collapsed lung. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Dale Winningham, a volunteer for the National Disaster Medical System, practices labored breathing in preparation for earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., as patient-simulation expert Gina Wesley instructs him on how he would act if he had a collapsed lung. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

A member of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority Fire Department responds to a simulated plane crash during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the capabilities of government agencies following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

A member of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority Fire Department responds to a simulated plane crash during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the capabilities of government agencies following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Tech. Sgt. Heather Speidel, a medic with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group, simulates inserting a breathing tube in the windpipe of a notional plane-crash victim during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Tech. Sgt. Heather Speidel, a medic with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group, simulates inserting a breathing tube in the windpipe of a notional plane-crash victim during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group carry a patient litter to a simulated field clinic during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Medical Group carry a patient litter to a simulated field clinic during earthquake-response exercises held May 18, 2011, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky Air Guard to provide medical care following a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Amidst the chaos of moans, groans and cries for help, members of the 123rd Airlift Wing conducted patient triage and provided emergency medical care for more than a dozen men and women badly injured in an earthquake and subsequent plane crash here May 18.

Fortunately, the patients were volunteers, and their injuries weren't real. Instead, they were part of two simulations designed to test the disaster-response capabilities of the Kentucky Air Guard medical group and multiple federal agencies, including the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville.

In the first scenario, a C-130 carrying injured earthquake victims landed at the Kentucky Air Guard Base, where medical personnel were standing by to carry them off the plane and prepare them for transport to local hospitals. Many of the "patients" had been evacuated from simulated hospitals and nursing homes in the notional earthquake zone, which meant they required special care as soon as they arrived in Louisville, according to Lt. Col. Beth Leistensnider, medical readiness officer for the 123rd Airlift Wing.

Although medical personnel from the wing assisted with patient care during the first scenario, the event primarily was intended to test the VA's support of the National Disaster Medical System, Colonel Leistensnider explained. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NDMS was created to manage the federal government's overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. In addition to the VA, the NDMS also partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, state and local departments of health, and private hospitals.

"In the event of a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake, the Louisville VA will be responsible for setting up a patient reception area on our base," Colonel Leistensnider said. "Under NDMS, federal authorities will arrange for patients to be flown here from affected areas, the patients will be received by the VA, and they will be transported to local health care facilities."

The partnership between the VA and the Kentucky Air Guard is a valuable one, according to William Young, emergency response coordinator for the Louisville VA.

"The base's involvement in this operation is very critical," Mr. Young said. "We don't have the manpower or support to do this by ourselves. Additionally, the medical staff here provides us with invaluable training on how to provide the best care to a large number of patients."

Colonel Leistensnider agreed that joint exercises offer tremendous benefits for patient care.

"The more contact we have with the different agencies we may be involved with during an emergency, the more effective we all become," she said.

The second exercise held May 18 was limited to the wing's 123rd Medical Group, whose members were tasked with rendering aid to earthquake victims who were subsequently involved in a plane crash. The scenario required triage of difficult and combative patients and emergency medical care under field conditions, with cases ranging from head trauma and fractured bones to a heart attack and a woman in labor.

"After notification of the incident, we set up our medical control and emergency operations center, set up our communications channels, practiced our system of patient tracking and provided treatment as patients arrived," Colonel Leistensnider said.

"We didn't know what was coming at us, which is a very realistic possibility. But we met our objectives by creating a realistic environment and performing our duties using the equipment we had available. With each exercise, we improve. The next time, we'll be even more prepared."

Both exercises augmented National Level Exercise 2011, a weeklong event designed to test the local, state and national response to a simulated earthquake along the New Madrid Fault. NLE 2011, which concludes May 20, includes participation from emergency responders in eight central states, the National Guard and multiple federal entities.