Disaster Day tests emergency response at BCIT

Buildings were flooded, downed power lines skittered blue sparks across parking lots, ceilings collapsed and a massive sink hole swallowed several victims as a fearsome storm ripped across BCIT's Burnaby campus Wednesday morning.

On paper.

The massive weather calamity was the scenario mapped out for the school's biennial Disaster Day to test its ability to respond to an emergency.

More than 270 volunteers from BCIT's emergency response corps, St. John Ambulance as well as professional emergency responders from the Burnaby fire department and RCMP participated in the exercise, which took six months to plan. Observers from several agencies like the City of Burnaby and other post-secondary institutions like the University of Victoria, UBC and Capilano University watched the disaster unfold in real time, complete with volunteer actors playing victims.

"We understand in a major disaster, adults don't get dibs," said Teresa Sharp, the director of the exercise. "We're on our own and we have to look after our people."

And with more than 48,000 students, staff and faculty spread over the school's various campuses that's a big responsibility.

That's why so much effort goes into the exercise. No detail is spared. Wednesday's disaster even included a lost child who'd been separated from her mother wandering the campus.

A triage centre assessed victims' injuries, some of them gruesomely streaming blood courtesy of makeup students from Vancouver Film School. Some suffered an even worse fate, their status as deceased designated by a black tag tied to their wrist.

An emergency shelter in the gym provided comfort, water and food for more mobile victims. Volunteers logged their names and contact information so they could be reunited with loved ones. A flip chart provided updates on the extent of the disaster.

It may have been an exercise, but everyone took it seriously, said Sharp.

"We're a business, and like any business we have to do as much as we can to get up and running again," she said.


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