Disaster Training Exercise Held at Columbia Metropolitan Airport

May 15, 2017

On May 8th and 9th, the Columbia Metropolitan Airport housed a two day training exercise to test emergency preparedness and response. The event was organized by the South Carolina Forestry Commission with the National Disaster Medical System. The exercise involved a mock disaster which would require people to be flown in for distribution to area medical facilities for further treatment. After facing two consecutive years of natural disasters, the 1,000-year flood in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, it’s important for South Carolina to be prepared for whatever event might come next.

The training exercise is performed annually, with every other year taking place in Columbia. During the exercise, a plane from Charleston is flown in with actors playing patients already on board. The patients are then wheeled out of the plane on gurneys and checked out by actual doctors before being driven to hospitals for further medical attention.

Six counties had hospitals participating in the exercise, including Lexington, Richland, Orangeburg, Newberry, Kershaw, and Sumter. From the hospitals, to the military, to the Forestry Commission and more, there are many agencies involved in both the simulations and in actual disaster scenarios. It’s events like these that can help prepare for when the unexpected happens.

“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” Brad Bramlett, Public Information Officer for the South Carolina Forestry Commission, explains. “We want to make sure everybody knows their part and what they’re doing beforehand, versus waiting until after an event hits.”

During the exercise, patients were played by students from South University and Midlands Technical College. Flying in from Charleston for the exercise were cadets from the South Carolina Civil Air Patrol.

Carlton Bailiff Jr., from the Columbia Federal Coordinating Center, served as the drill’s Exercise Director. Bailiff stresses the importance of having actual nursing students play some of the patients in the exercise. It allows them to see things from a different perspective, which will help them be better equipped to assist in an actual disaster.

While the day’s exercises ran smoothly, according to Nick Spinelli, Public Information Officer for MEDAC Fort Jackson, the team also embraces any hiccups that might arise along the way.

“Anybody could come in and do an exercise and everything goes great and you’re fine,” Spinelli says. “But in a real world scenario, the odds of everything going right are very very slim. That’s where we can learn and prepare for the unexpected.”

Later this year, another training exercise will take place at Fort Jackson, furthering the attempts to be proactive and as well prepared as possible in the event of another disaster.