Dan Jaquith eyes the tiny town he set up for Chatfield's EMS tabletop drill.   GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Dan Jaquith eyes the tiny town he set up for Chatfield's EMS tabletop drill. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Last Tuesday afternoon, Dan Jaquith created a tabletop simulation that helped determine that Chatfield's fire, police and ambulance services are "mostly ready" in case of an emergency.

"In a nutshell, I got the idea for this drill because tabletop drills are a way for us to train in the winter without getting out all the big toys when it's 30 below...we can learn what problems we might run into when we're 'playing'," he explained.

He set tiny cast metal people among model railroad and foam core board houses and store buildings on a table in Chatfield's city hall.

At that point in the day, Chatfield's fire, police and ambulance staff didn't know what kind of disaster to expect, but they knew something was bound to decimate the tiny town that Jaquith had been compiling and constructing for the past eight months as an educational experience for all the emergency management services (EMS) personnel to test their skills and find out what improvements are necessary.

He commented, "Nobody's prepared for the incident tonight. They know it's a tabletop drill, they know it's a catastrophic event, but nobody knows what's going to happen."

Jaquith said the drill would consist of issues very similar to a real catastrophic event. Scenarios would be presented and staff would have to determine what to do if those first-in found two or three people lying in the street or hanging out a car window, hurt or maybe dead? What do the guys in the first-in fire engine do?

He added another example, "How are they going to get EMS support over here if the ambulance is over there...are they going to throw a rock? Use a Campbell's soup can on a string? They're going to encounter things, have to split their resources."

Jaquith also explained the tabletop drill is a good way to work out all kinds of issues.

"They will encounter issues that they might have in a real scene, but in a controlled environment, they can sit down and figure out how to deal with the problem," he added. "It's much easier to do it in a controlled environment than in a catastrophic event."

EMS staff stopped in to admire Jaquith's miniature town throughout the afternoon, bending down to see that many of the buildings, though out of order, were made of foam core board with photographs of Chatfield's downtown businesses adhered to them. They surveyed the lineup of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, trucks, fire trucks, ambulances and helicopters he had amassed for the occasion and they peered at the farmland he'd set up outside of town, then speculated on what was going to happen.

At 7 that evening, a tornado touched down on "Jaquithville," flattening buildings and entrapping people inside, starting fires, causing car wrecks with entrapment and forcing Chatfield emergency personnel to reconsider exactly what "playing" with Jaquith's little city would mean.

The organizer recounted, "They faced resource problems, like how they were going to get folks moved to the hospital, treatment problems, a shortage of EMT staff, law enforcement faced crowd control, looters, traffic, search and rescue with the fire department, and essentially, the police faced the problem of how to secure the area."

Chatfield assistant ambulance director Nancy Timm was at the scene, and she agreed with Jaquith, who cited that the biggest problem was a lack of communications.

Timm reported the tornado's toll on the community, "The ambulance encountered 14 victims, some injuries needing immediate, delayed and minor treatment. We also had fatalities."

The major problems illustrated through the drill, she continued to describe, were that there were more victims than the local service could handle, necessitating the need to use its resources of mutual aid. However, radio communication within its department was a stumbling block due to the lack of training on the use of the assigned channels. Also, the ambulance department did not have enough handheld radios, hampering its ability to perform each role the EMTs were responsible for.

The exercise lasted for an hour, after which observers such as Olmsted County Sheriff's Office Division of Emergency Management Captain Kevin Torgerson and city of Eyota emergency manager Tony Nelson were on hand to assist with the drill and give input on changes that might make a difference for departments dealing with disaster.

Timm recalled, "Our challenge is getting multiple victims to the hospital as soon as possible. We perform an application called START triage, which is an objective MCI triage tool developed specifically for victims in a multi-casualty and disaster setting. Our service performs annual classroom training on START triage, but to experience its application with the tabletop setting was highly beneficial."

She said the drill pointed out the need to continue to practice and train for any type of disaster.

"The community agencies have set the groundwork needed to handle a disaster," Timm added. "All services incorporate the specific training into their programs, but funding will be needed to continue our efforts."

Jaquith was pleased with the drill's results and how it illuminated difficulties that might not have been glaring problems until put into play.

"The drill helped us improve communications by showing us how difficult it was and what shortcomings we had," he said. "It was able to show some problems in the area of supplies and equipment."

He said the drill also showed that a large-scale event is constantly changing and evolving and that responders and city officials have to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to the situation.

"So with that in mind we now know where to target our training and allocate some funding to add to our current compliment of equipment," Jaquith added.

He wants the community to be assured that the city officials and emergency responders of Chatfield are very well trained and are constantly being very proactive and seeking out ways to become more effective and efficient in their commitment to keep the public safe.

"Drills like this are a very effective tool in our training arsenal and work well because of the commitment our responders have made to keep everyone as safe as possible," he stated. "City officials play key roles in a large scale disaster because the general public will be looking to those key officials for leadership and direction, and we are very fortunate to have a very dynamic group to lead our community."

He complimented the city of Chatfield for acting proactively and aggressively formulating a plan of attack in how to overcome the problem of communications during a large-scale event.

"I, as emergency manager for the city of Chatfield, am very confident that if an event should arise in the area of Chatfield, the city officials and all of the emergency service would do a very admirable job of taking care of each and every one of you," he concluded. "This will be done with dedication, training and pride."

Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young commended Jaquith on a well-planned catastrophe, saying, "Preparing for emergencies is both a difficult and necessary task. Dan Jaquith provides leadership to the city in this regard, and the effort put forward by him and all of the volunteers and staff involved in the police, ambulance, fire, and public works departments is greatly appreciated."

Timm concurred, "Our department will need to continue to incorporate disaster preparedness training as often as possible. Dan Jaquith did a grand job with this tabletop drill!"