Report by: Bev Yuen, AH6NF, RACES Coordinator
The recent Oahu WMD exercise, where a toxic gas was released during a crowded event at Aloha Stadium, provided the first experience for Oahu RACES in participating in this type of mass casualty exercise. Emergency response vehicles (police, fire, hazmat, ambulance, etc.) were staged near the scene, responded and played out the scenario. Several hundred casualties had to be decontaminated and transported to local hospitals as part of the exercise. All of the major hospitals in metropolitan Honolulu participated as The Health Care Association of Hawaii used this as their annual mass casualty exercise.
RACES participation was limited as this was a work day for most RACES members and the second exercise for RACES within 3 weeks. Also, we were not sure where/how we could best use our skills in this type of scenario. We were asked to support Health Comm by providing several amateur radio operators at OCDA and decided also to send RACES members to Aloha Stadium as observers. Three members operated from OCDA and 1 person was at Aloha Stadium.
At the stadium, Dennis Yee, KH7LD, was able to provide information to the group at OCDA and the Health Comm net participants as to the status of the exercise, while at the same time observing operations to determine how we might be useful at the scene of such a disaster.
At OCDA, the group there received Facility Status Reports and relayed a couple of messages to the Command Post at Aloha Stadium by phone. Activity at OCDA was minimal as all participants remained at the stadium throughout the exercise.
What we learned:
We can see 3 possible ways RACES personnel would be useful in a real mass casualty incident such as this:
- To assist with hospital communications by helping Health Comm pass messages into and out of OCDA. In this exercise the hospitals coordinator was at the disaster site, but we understand that in an actual emergency he would most likely be at OCDA sending and receiving hospital communications. With Medicom very busy and phone lines possibly jammed with other calls, amateur radio could provide one more link to each of the hospitals via the Health Comm net;
- To assist with interagency communication at the site; and
- To provide additional communication paths from the site of the emergency to one or more agency’s headquarters or other sites if all of the local phone lines are jammed.
- Most of the OCDA staff, the hospitals’ coordinator and others who normally sit at OCDA during an emergency were at the stadium. It is unclear to us whether in an actual disaster they would be at the Command Post at the site of the emergency or would be at OCDA. This may vary depending on the incident, but needs clarifying as to their probable location.
- RACES had to request the use of the State RACES repeater to provide efficient amateur radio communication from downtown Honolulu to the stadium as the 2 main repeaters that Oahu RACES normally uses were not operational and in need of repair.
- With RACES 2 main repeaters down, the group had to bring in personal equipment to OCDA to operate effectively.
With what we learned from this exercise, Oahu RACES will now be better prepared to respond if needed in an actual incident. However, our exact role is still not clearly defined and would probably be incident-dependent.
Thanks to Dennis Yee, KH7LD, Randy Kurashige, WH6AJ and Kevin Bogan, WH6ML for their participation. Also, thanks to Dennis, KH7LD, for the photos.