‘Mock earthquake’ rattles NAS Fallon

A message blaring from loudspeakers strategically placed around Naval Air Station Fallon alerted sailors that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the Lahontan Valley Wednesday morning.

Immediately, the call went out to air station and Churchill County entities that the tremor had caused widespread damage and that falling debris trapped people in a building.

Meanwhile, six miles away, people suffering a wide range of injuries walked into Banner Churchill Community Hospital to be treated.

The mock earthquake knocked out communications except for point-to-point radios and the amateur radio operators. At times, emergency personnel relied on runners.

The drill tested both the base’s and Banner Churchill’s readiness in dealing with a catastrophic event such as an earthquake. Earlier this year, the base and Banner Churchill worked side-by-side in evacuating sailors who were victims of two active shooters.

NAS Fallon spokesman Zip Upham said the drill was part of Citadel Rumble, a series of events staged at Navy installations in the West and Midwest.

“This is Navy-side,” said Upham. “It was directed by the commander of Naval Installation Command. Although we have some training every quarter, we have a large exercise twice a year.”

This wasn’t the first time NAS Fallon became a major player in an earthquake drill. In 2008, Vigilant Guard 08 followed a scenario in which an earthquake and a series of aftershocks rattled western Nevada and, in particular, severely hit Churchill County. State and federal agencies — along with the air station, National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve — reacted to specific situations in the weeklong exercise.

Each exercise, though, provides feedback for the management team and responders. Wednesday was no different.

“The exercise went extremely well,” said Chris Pierce, NAS Fallon training officer.

Pierce, though, said a delay occurred in starting the exercise because of equipment checks. He called the delays “minor” in real-world time.

Pierce said the air station and Banner work well together, and the evacuation of injured people went as expected.

Certain aspects of the drill, though, were low key. Fore example, he said when the Federal Fire Department responded to the damaged building, the vehicles ran without lights and sirens.

“We don’t want to alarm anyone so we simulate the code,” he added.

Prior to the exercise kicking off, Battalion Chief Dennis Ing of the Federal Fire Department sized up the preparation.

“We hope to see how all the entities come together and respond together,” he said.

Ing, who was acting an observer and evaluator, said it was important to see how the first responders reacted to each situation. He said the partnership between the air station and Banner Churchill played a big part in conducting the morning drill.

At the receiving end, Banner Churchill triaged walk-in patients. Steve Tafoya, the hospital’s ambulance services senior manager, said the test went smoothly.

“The theory (at Banner) was that people were not coming to us by ambulance,” Tafoya pointed out. “Some were dropped off or others walked.”

Tafoya said the hospital took 12 people and rotated them through the various stations. He said the rotation provided the hospital with about 50 patients to triage.

Additionally, Tafoya said the hospital ensured that doctors and nurses were properly credentialed to help with triage. During the exercise, he said a nurse from Highland Village and a physician assistant from the air station were credentialed and certified to assist in treating the patients.

NAS Fallon Cmdr. Gene Woodruff, the base’s executive officer and supervisor of the drill, said responders exercised a worst-case scenario, especially with the loss of modern communication.

“We had great coordination with the Churchill County Sheriff Office dispatchers,” Woodruff said, as the air station relied on amateur network radio operators communicating with law enforcement officials.

Likewise, Woodruff said NAS Fallon and Banner Churchill have developed a good rapport in assisting each other during exercises.

If a real-world situation struck, though, Woodruff said the base and community work with each other as evidenced by the response to an Amtrak-big rig collision in June 2011.

“We have some capability in the last 10 years to respond to an emergency,” Woodruff said.

“We require more outside support such as those from the Nevada National Guard, Navy and civilian agencies. We need to work together before an incident were to occur.”


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