This deadly serious drill will change the way you think of chemical attacks.
There’s makeup, hazmat, helicopters, explosions, and fire. It may look like an action movie set, but this is a vital simulation for a real threat. 250 guests from 30 different countries came to see how the IDF would handle a mass-casualty toxicological attack. Now you can, too.
All is calm at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. Suddenly, twin explosions rock the area, and dozens of visibly wounded casualties cough, crawl, and collapse on the ground. A medic arrives, and begins to call in what he sees. He also starts choking and falls to the floor. As more first responders arrive, it is clear that this is not cut-and-dry terror. This is a chemical weapons attack.
Don’t worry – this is only a drill. In mid-January, Israel hosted the 4th IPRED (International Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters) Conference, which attracted 250 international experts from 30 different countries, from the U.S. to Brazil to Australia to Japan. This exercise, coordinated by the IDF Home Front Command and the Health Ministry, is its culmination. Its scale is immense. According to Lieutenant Colonel Aviv Ohana, Head of the Department of Public Health for the Home Front Command, over 800 people took part. The participants also included the IDF, the Health Ministry, the police, the fire department, Soroka Medical Center, and other emergency response teams.
An Emergency is No Match for Our First Responders
“The objective is to see the cooperation and activity for emergency preparedness, particularly with the healthcare system,” says Lt. Col. Ohana. While it is important to prepare for any multi-casualty attack, toxicological attacks add another layer of complication. “It raises the level of collaboration between the different emergency response groups.”
Collaboration in Action
This collaboration is easy to see on the ground. Hazmat-suited members of the Home Front Command, police, fire department, and Magen David Adom (MDA) weave through the casualties, dispensing antidote and bringing them to safe zones. Experts at the site collect samples to identify the chemical agent used in the attack.
Soldiers from the canine special forces unit, Oketz, are deployed to find any casualties outside the area, while a police helicopter circles overhead. When a fire suddenly breaks out, simulating a bursting ammonia tank at the nearby train station, the teams quickly assess the situation and contain the perimeter.
Within an hour, all of the casualties have been evacuated, all of the emergency responders have been decontaminated, and the ambulances depart for Soroka Medical Center. There, the next stage of the exercise begins, and medical professionals simulate decontaminating the victims.
Lt. Col. Ohana stresses that international coordination is essential in emergency situations like these, and that manifests in the Home Front Command’s many emergency aid missions. Dr. Rebecca Florsheim, who came to the conference from New York City, agrees. “When there’s a mass-casualty event, there are various groups from all different countries who come together. They don’t necessarily speak the same language; they have different skill sets and have to work together to best get the job done.”