Don't Panic! This is only a test. Had this been a real emergency, well, there would have been a lot more people panicking.
There was only some slight confusion as doctors, nurses, volunteers and staff at Marin General Hospital went through their paces Thursday as part of a statewide emergency preparedness drill. About 30 people volunteered to act as patients in the drill. They were guided from station to station by hospital staff in an orderly and calm manner. Of course, there would have been many more panicked patients at the hospital, likely creating a more hectic atmosphere in a real emergency.
Thursday's scenario was that terrorists had stolen a dairy waste truck in West Marin and hooked it up to a fire hydrant in a neighborhood near the Marin Civic Center, contaminating the area's water supply.
"Patients," recruited from a Girl Scout troop, Dominican University and around the community, were treated at triage tents set up in the hospital parking lot near the emergency room entrance. In the simulation, some patients were treated for minor symptoms and discharged, others suffered more serious ailments and those who didn't survive were sent to a makeshift morgue inside a trailer.
Twelve-year-old Hope, a student at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, was one of the lucky ones. Her character suffered only minor symptoms and was discharged from the hospital quickly. Unfortunately, there were no family members or guardians to meet her at the designated family reunification site.
Hope played her role well, although she's not a method actress and said she wasn't feeling ill.
"This is fun and it's important," said 20-year-old Dominican student Kristina Rodriguez, another mock patient.
Volunteers from the Marin Medical Response team were on hand to help hospital staff in the triage center.
Retired nurse Lorraine Levin, one of the Marin Medical Response team volunteers, said "It's always good to be prepared and to have everything you need in case of a disaster."
The drill was a test for the entire hospital staff, not just doctors and nurses.
The media were asked to participate by interviewing doctors and staff, who promptly directed questions to the hospital's public information officer. Among the questions typed up by hospital staff for the media to ask"
"Are people getting sick and how many so far? What other information are you receiving about the incident?"
"How safe is the actual hospital's water supply in the wake of the plot?"
"What is the contaminant? What are the symptoms of exposure?"
The answers came quickly and smoothly, despite some cell phone reception problems.
Had this been a real emergency, phone lines would have been jammed with people seeking information. Drill supervisors created a team for telecommunications and logistics, however, to help disseminate information and coordinate between emergency crews.
There was also a plan discussed to set up a daycare for the children of hospital workers who might be worried about their families in an emergency.
The hospital would also have to communicate with the Marin Municipal Water District, Marin County Department of Health officials and emergency services, according to the hospital's safety coordinator, Ryan Rodriguez.
Marin General Hospital was one of several facilities throughout the state participating in emergency drills Thursday.