Indiana tragedies provide lessons for first responders

Three people died in a bus crash on Keystone Avenue last month.
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Homeland Security officials are drawing on a recent tragedy in Indianapolis to determine if first responders are prepared for disaster - or what they call a "mass casualty event."

A church bus crash near 96th Street and Keystone Avenue killed three members of Colonial Hills Baptist Church and an unborn child. The July 27 crash injured more than two dozen others, most of whom ended up at hospitals further away from the scene.

Indiana's ice show disaster at the state fairgrounds on October 31, 1963 that killed 74 and injured 400 proved to be the model that other cities would use in the early stages of emergency disaster planning.

"Indianapolis experienced one of the worst disasters of the 20th century," said Dr. Louis Profeta, St. Vincent Hospital.

The injuries sustained in that incident 50 years ago are very similar to a suicide bombing of today in Israel or in Boston. It also drew a comparison to the recent bus crash in Marion County.

"The reality is we have made very little improvements to disaster communication coordination since those events occurred. And we have made very little adjustment since 1963. This can be illustrated in the recent bus casualty event that occurred on July 27," Profeta said.

Passersby from the bus crash and reaction of emergency personnel on the scene were exemplary, but there may have been a problem transporting the injured from the site. That problem emerged during a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Homeland Security Issues convened in Carmel by Rep. Susan Brooks.

"That led to an emergency department only four miles away from the mass casualty event completely mobilized, completely evacuated to only get two patients from this event," Profeta said.

Dr. Virginia Caine also revealed that the Marion County Health Department is the only place in the state stocking test kits to detect ricin and anthrax.

"This proved to be a valuable investment,because last year when letters containing ricin were being mailed across the country,we were the only possible health department in the state with ability to test for ricin," Caine said.

From the time bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15, the repercussions have been felt throughout the country. One month later, fans noticed a difference as they entered the famed oval for the Indianapolis 500.

Coolers were limited to 18 inches by 14 inches.

"They made an effort to bring up the cooler issue. It was unpleasant, but most people understood why it was important that we protect people coming to the event," said John Hill, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

"How do we keep tradition in place, keeping people safe so they can enjoy the race in safety," said Sen. Joe Donnelly.

"They blocked off Georgetown Road, which blocked off the whole backside of the infrastructure from any IED or mass explosive in there," Hill said.

Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen says the state has done very well responding to disasters like the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, the tornado in Henryville and the home explosion at Richmond Hill, but he warns against complacency.

"It is not a question of if a mass casualty event will occur in Indiana, but when it will happen. How will it happen, to what magnitude will it happen, and will we be prepared for it when it does happen?" Bowen said.

Indianapolis did make quite an impression when it came to hosting the Super Bowl with everything that was going on, but the behind the scenes stuff might be what is remembered the most.

"Responder life safety intel, weather contingency plans, key personal contact info, management plans mapping and now that has been recognized as a best practice used at all venues that hold a Super Bowl," said Fishers Fire Chief Steven Orusa.

All the hearing participants agreed that they are better in case of emergency when they are together. Now, they have to work to make that happen.