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Department of Health Practices Emergency Response

A three-day disaster drill tested Pennsylvania emergency services across the state this weekend. Teams assembled in Lebanon, Clearfield, and Lehigh Counties to practice their response to disaster scenarios.

Joe Schmider, State Director for the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, said participants treated the situations as if they were real, and were not told what they would encounter during exercises.

He said, when actual disasters occur, resources become strained, and practice sessions help them to learn to cope when an emergency presents itself.

"Last August and September, we sent 50 ambulances over to assist New Jersey, and then 5 days later they came back and the same group of people were assisting parts of Pennsylvania that had major flooding," said Schmider. "These are all real events that could happen any day in Pennsylvania. And it's just to enhance our skills, to make sure that we can have a smooth, quick response."

In Fort Indiantown Gap, Lebanon County, emergency services, including those from Pittsburgh, were presented with the aftermath of a commercial jet crash-landing on a highway. While exercises at the Clearfield County Fairgrounds and Eastern PA EMS Council in Lehigh County simulated weather disasters.

Schmider said about 800 EMS providers and at least 6 hospitals participated throughout the course of the weekend. He said emergency resources concentrated in similar regions usually train together.

"One thing we've learned over the years, when we practice at these kind of major events, it's so much smoother if a real event were to happen because we already know the people," said Schmider. "It enhances the response when you know the people you're dealing with and you practice with."

Schmider said the exercises were a success and in upcoming weeks there will be an after action review that will discuss what can be improved. The state practices disaster response year-round.