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Bethesda terror attack drill tests emergency resources

From the Maryland Community Newspapers Online:

Hundreds of emergency personnel descended on the National Naval Medical Center last week trying to save 76 victims of a terrorist attack. But Suzanne Patterson just tried to make them look as gruesome as possible.

Patterson was the special effects artist responsible for the “blood and guts” at the Bethesda Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness Drill on Oct. 30, which simulated a Sarin gas and bomb attack outside Navy Med’s Uniformed Services University to test the readiness of local, federal and military personnel. Her company, Military Moulage Combat Injury Simulation, has worked for the New York City Fire Department, the Pentagon, and other government and military agencies.

Simulation involved gas and bomb attack
by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer

Hundreds of emergency personnel descended on the National Naval Medical Center last week trying to save 76 victims of a terrorist attack. But Suzanne Patterson just tried to make them look as gruesome as possible.

Patterson was the special effects artist responsible for the “blood and guts” at the Bethesda Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness Drill on Oct. 30, which simulated a Sarin gas and bomb attack outside Navy Med’s Uniformed Services University to test the readiness of local, federal and military personnel. Her company, Military Moulage Combat Injury Simulation, has worked for the New York City Fire Department, the Pentagon, and other government and military agencies.

To create the victims’ protruding bowels, third-degree burns and imbedded bits of shrapnel, the Emmy Award-winning Patterson utilized a wide variety of materials, from silicon to a bubbling Alka Seltzer tablet that mimicked a “sucking” chest wound. Gelatin and wax were used to simulate other deep wounds.

She and her team started work at 6 a.m. for the 9:45 a.m. start of the drill, and even the victims, really Navy Med staffers who volunteered to play the dead and wounded, were impressed.

“I think it went very, very well,” said Patterson, who worked in Hollywood for various special effects experts before moving to Fairfax, Va. “When they would go out in the hallway, you could hear the people going, ‘Oh my God!’ They wanted to go and show everybody.”

It was the first time that a special effects professional was used to create the simulated wounds for the drill, which began in 2004 and has grown to involve the emergency response personnel of Navy Med, National Institutes of Health, Suburban Hospital, and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue. More than 5,000 people participated in the exercise.

“It’s about bringing our agencies together,” said Chris Gillette, Navy Med’s command emergency manager for the joint exercise, just before the drill commenced.

The major twist in this year’s drill was a secondary attack.

After a truck loaded with Sarin nerve gas crashed into USU students waiting at a bus stop, the first responders to the scene, two firemen and two policemen, were killed when an improvised explosive device thrown out of the truck just before it crashed was detonated nearby.

Rescue crews from Navy Med, Montgomery County and other agencies rushed to the scene to find victims stretched on the ground and others wailing for help, bent over their wounded friends and shouting, “Why aren’t you helping them?”

Angel Gonzalez, a Navy corpsman and one of the victims, said the flesh wound to his face applied by Patterson’s make-up team felt “sticky” but hadn’t seen himself in the mirror.

“I don’t even want to imagine something like this happening,” he said.

A bit of the real world intruded into the exercise when military helicopters intended to simulate a medical evacuation of victims to NIH and Suburban Hospital were called back by the Marines.

Some of the victims were transported to a Rapid Response Shelter, a facility utilized for the first time this year that allows for nurses, anesthesiologists and surgeons to perform stabilization and minor surgery before moving patients into main hospital facilities. The shelter can treat up to 25 patients at a time.

About half an hour into the exercise, Gillette said he was pleased with the way emergency personnel had performed.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to be ready, but I think we can be better prepared,” he said.

On Monday, Gillette said he had a “very, very positive reaction” to the results of the drill, and that a new radio system tested very well.

“It’s really to show our community citizens that we are constantly training,” he said.


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