At age 29, I was the oldest "victim" in the city-wide disaster drill that took place September 17 at Children's Hospital Boston. The drill, called Operation Poseidon, involved a large number of volunteers, mostly kids, who pretended to be victims of a major radiological event in order to test the response systems of Children's and other local institutions.
I work at a local company called DropFire, which focuses on data communications between first-responder agencies. I felt that volunteering would be a good opportunity to see the disaster response process first-hand. So for me, it was mostly about business. But it was also about knowing what goes on during an emergency, so I can be prepared to help the public—and my own family—if a real disaster occurred.
The drill started around 7 a.m. Two makeup artists inflicted fake wounds on us, which was good for two reasons: It gave medical personnel a visual cue on how to treat each victim, and it kept the kids thoroughly entertained comparing injuries. In my role, I wasn't physically injured in the accident, but was contaminated with potentially radioactive debris, so I had black powder smudged on my face.
Children's staff gave each of us a triage tag to wear around our necks that described our injury and explained how we were supposed to act. They also gave me a child with relatively minor injuries to act as my son, and I was instructed to play an anxious dad who doesn't think hospital procedure is as important as staying with his child. There were other pretend parents too, who arrived at the hospital later to try to find their injured children.
Driving through Children's emergency entrance in an ambulance and then going through the decontamination and evaluation/treatment process was definitely exciting. During this process, I got separated from my son, and the emergency personnel did their best to convince me I could find him later. After the ambulance ride, a woman in what looked like a space suit ushered me into one of the many tents and told me to remove my contaminated clothing and throw it into a bin outside. After that, I went through to the next compartment, where I scrubbed off the radioactive powder in a warm shower. The space-suited woman was there to assist if I needed her, and I suspect I would have needed help had I really been through a disaster.
At the other end of the tent, they gave me a towel to drape over myself, while someone with a Geiger counter (which measures radioactivity) scanned me. The whole process was very efficient, although time seemed to stand still, as I was wet and cold. After this, I was declared radioactivity-free and escorted inside the building, where I checked in with a nurse. After I gave my personal information, I got another tag to wear and walked into a small area with several occupied beds, a good deal of medical equipment and a horde of doctors, nurses and patients.
This whole time, I was asking about my son. I was convinced by a nurse to lie down in a bed; she promised to bring me to him as soon as they evaluated me. A doctor appeared within seconds and ran me through a basic check; his bedside manner was fantastic, and I found myself thinking that I wouldn't mind having him as my regular doctor. He was persistent in repeatedly asking me if I felt okay, and making sure I wasn't just pretending in order to get to my child. When he was convinced, I was finally reunited with my son, and after we dressed in paper jumpsuits, we walked to the regular waiting area, where our part in the drill came to an end.
In all, the drill ran much more smoothly than I'd anticipated, and I'd like to give the staff of Children's a round of applause. Comparing notes with others who participated in the same drill in other locations, it's clear that my experience in a smooth process was the exception rather than the rule. I can't speak for the rest of the city, only having seen what occurred at Children's, but the drill gave me more confidence in Boston's ability to handle a disaster.