I survived, I think. I made it to the ambulance anyway.
So this is a follow-up to Sunday’s blog, where I had mentioned I was on my way to be an actor in full-scale emergency exercise. This exercise was held Sunday night in an old hospital area, and 12(?) different federal and local agencies participated, as well as a number of evaluators, a couple of directors/managers (thanks Kimberly!) and a fabulous makeup artist. There were two connected scenarios run at once in neighboring buildings: one a suicide bomber, and one an active shooter(s) who takes hostages. As I played one of the bombing victims, I don’t know much about what happened in the shooter scenario. But overall, it was quite an involved night, with many participants, much fake blood, and an unclear sense of who everyone was running around in the dark. In other words, a very surreal, exciting, at-times-boring, tiring, interesting experience. And I think the actor came out in me quite well (one of the EMTs said I should get an award; I was acting very realistically – and no, that was not code for ‘over the top.’ :-))
So it started with all of the volunteer victims meeting at a federal building. There were two main age groups – young adults (kids) from Americorps, and then older professionals, but in general, it was a diverse set of nice people. We then were bused to the old Walter Reed Hospital grounds, where we spent a good two hours getting our makeup done and the scene set. Not for each of us of course. My place in the scene was determined within 15 minutes, and my makeup took 10 minutes – despite how scary it looked.
So while waiting, we all chatted, and took pictures of our wounds to keep us busy. I was coached to play a little deaf after the explosion, but not as much as some others. For the shooter scenario, some people were coached on how and when to run from the shooter(s), or how to play a hostage.
Finally the prep work was done. Folks like Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier were walked through the scene. Then we took our places, the bomb exploded (as in “We’re live! Start acting!”), the shooting started, and I and others were injured. As I had quite an impressive injury, and didn’t know where to go (just like a victim), I stayed on the scene and yelled for help. I asked someone else (Katie, who had a head injury) if she was okay, but there wasn’t much I could do other than “be” my injury. Two other, less-injured victims were helping two heavily injured victims, so I just stayed put and continued yelling. Cops came, investigated the whole scene, and then a couple worked on a man who “lost” his leg (played by an Afghanistan vet who helps with scenarios like this). Then they started moving the rest of us to a safe zone – where we stayed moaning and again yelled for help. It was easier to channel my inner actor than I thought. Not screaming in fright, but playing a person in pain, frustrated that cops kept going by us to take care of the shooter situation.
Then, finally, some people in dark uniforms came, wrapped our wounds, did an initial triage, and then helped move us closer to the ambulances, where our injuries were ranked again. And apparently, because I could walk and talk, despite shrapnel breaking my arm, I did not get put into the ambulance that went straight to the hospital – the man who lost his leg went there and one other. Instead, I and most others were initially treated on the ambulance bus. Yes, there are such things as ambulance buses. We were also interviewed by people with badges about what had happened.
After that, we waited on the ambulance bus for a good long while before being given the ‘all-clear’ to leave the scene. We went to the viewing (and snack) area, where I got horrible, horrible hot cocoa, but great M&Ms. In the meantime, the hostage situation was still unfolding in the other building. So we sat waiting for our fellow actors to be saved and then questioned. I finally got home around 2 am.
So, as I said, it was an exciting time – surreal, interesting, and – due to some great fellow actors – sometimes funny during the downtime. But in the end, it was and is very sobering. People are killed every day by terrorists, and so many live in constant fear, all because some people can’t or don’t understand reason, or have not been raised under reason. As a result, we have to train specialists and others on how to handle the situations we practiced last night – and that one of us, the vet, has suffered from directly.
The following pictures are pretty graphic…
P.S. What is it with so many young adults (and others) smoking? I thought we had won that battle!