HDSCS Responds to Metrolink Train Crash 4/23/02


No Drill Today, It's the Real Thing!

By Joe Moell KØOV


Approximately four times a year, the hospitals and emergency responders in Orange County hold large-scale drills to test the patient triage and transportation procedures that must be followed in the event of a mass casualty incident (MCI). HDSCS is always asked to participate. Hospitals verify procedures for activating us in accordance with their Incident Command System. We test our deployment and net procedures and get an opportunity to practice handling realistic disaster-related traffic. On Tuesday, 23 April 2002, two dozen HDSCS members awaited their assignments for a mock hazardous material incident, to be staged on a shopping street in Brea, California at 9 AM.

But at 8:10 AM, just 5-1/2 miles away in the city of Placentia, a 6000-ton mile-long freight train collided with a Metrolink double-decker commuter train. Three passengers lost their lives and over 200 were injured, many seriously. HDSCS Net Control WA6OPS immediately assigned the drill-ready hams to the fourteen hospitals expected to receive patients from the crash. For the next 4-1/2 hours, a total of 28 HDSCS hams provided vital links between these hospitals, the county's Central Point ambulance dispatch, and the county's Emergency Medical Service agency.

Amateur Radio net messages (traffic) included verifying victim dispatch and patient counts, locating victims prior to completion of the EMS database, providing hospitals with information for inquiring victim families, and liaison with hams supporting the Red Cross. Within some hospitals, hams provided direct communications between triage areas, Emergency Departments, and Command Posts (see photo below). Assistant Coordinator Dennis Kidder WA6NIA explained the importance of internal communications at the hospital where he was assigned: "We were repeatedly told by staff and the hospital Incident Commander how much they appreciated our being there. Early on, their internal communications were in a bit of a turmoil because their own walkie-talkies weren't working, so we provided an immediate backup for them between the Emergency Department and the Command Post, because they were hurting really bad for that."

This was the 75th hospital communications emergency response in the 21-year history of HDSCS. If the Brea drill had taken place, it would have been the 119th time that HDSCS has participated in a drill with hospitals in Orange County.

List of participants, in alphabetical order by name:

     Name and callsign         Responded to
     Bruce Chappell KE6TSM     UCI Med Ctr
     Jean Creason KC6PPY       St. Joseph Med Ctr
     Sam Creason K6EW          Base station
     Tom Curlee WB6UZZ         Los Alamitos General Hosp
     David Daniel KE6NVJ       St. Jude Med Ctr
     Tom Gaccione WB2LRH       UCI Med Ctr
     John Gillette N6NVR       St. Jude Med Ctr
     Ed Green AD6SR            Western Med Ctr, Santa Ana
     Dennis Kidder WA6NIA      St. Jude Med Ctr
     Fred Lochner WA6FRA       Anaheim General Hosp
     April Moell WA6OPS        Net Control Station
     Dave Mofford W7KTS        Base station
     Harry Mortimer N6KSC      Western Med Ctr, Santa Ana
     Dick Schmieter KM6MH      Central Point at OC EOC
     Mike Scofield N6OKG       West Anaheim Med Ctr
     Cheryl Simpson KD6MWZ     Brea Community Hosp
     Ken Simpson W6KOS         Central Point at OC EOC
     Keith Soesbe WR6R         Western Med Ctr, Anaheim
     Clay Stearns KE6TZR       St. Joseph Med Ctr
     Ralph Swanson WB6JBI      Anaheim Memorial Med Ctr
     George Thompson KD6GQF    Brea Community Hosp
     Jay Thompson W6JAY        Garden Grove Hosp
     Richard Thompson WA6NOL   Garden Grove Hosp
     Fred Wagner KQ6Q          UCI Med Ctr
     John Walker AC7GK         Chapman General Hosp
     Al Way KC6LNP             Anaheim Memorial Med Ctr
     Jack Woolf KF6YQQ         Placentia-Linda Hosp
     Larry Woolf KF6YCM        Kaiser Permanente Hospital, Anaheim

Some debriefing comments from HDSCS responders:

Cheryl Simpson KD6MWZ: "Usually I monitor our net with an earphone, but the hospital Command Post people wanted me to leave the speaker on so that they could listen to our net for additional information."

Larry Woolf KF6YCM: "The hospital looked to the hams for a lot of info and we did not let them down. The fact that we were able to get information quickly impressed them greatly! I think they now really consider us a major component of their response team."

Fred Wagner KQ6Q: "Handling inquiries to locate crash victims/patients are a superb public confidence builder. When a hospital staffer has tried to locate a victim who is a fellow staffer at that hospital, has already tried the established and published methods, comes to the hams, asks for help, and has the victim located in minutes - they know that the hams have their act together, and the word spreads informally."

April Moell WA6OPS: "It was amazing how much this actual communications emergency seemed like 'just another drill' for us. All of our HDSCS operators went to their reassigned hospitals and got onto the net quickly, without having to ask for directions or further instructions. Their message-handling procedures were excellent. Having drilled with our hospitals over a hundred times has paid off well for us and for them."

Some comments from our served hospitals:

Mary Massey, Pre-Hospital Care Coordinator at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center: "Tell your people what a FANTASTIC job they did for us Tuesday. It is one area that always comes through for us."

Ann Scott, Pre-Hospital Care Coordinator at St. Jude Medical Center: "I got more instantaneous information from my ham operator, so that I was able to prepare. He was right out there -- he was wonderful!"

Marla Gayne, Interim Pre-Hospital Care Coordinator at UCI Medical Center: "Our ham operator was totally invaluable. He provided us with a lot of information that we didn't have access to, so it was really wonderful having him there. He knew what was going on throughout the county and kept us informed about patient dispatches."


Photos on this page are from local television coverage of the accident. In the photo at right above, HDSCS responder John Gillette N6NVR (far left) stands with his radio at the entrance to St. Jude Medical Center's Emergency Department, providing direct communications to an HDSCS operator at that hospital's Command Post.

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This page updated 27 November 2006