Earthquake Drill Prepares for Worst at Fallon NAS

FALLON, Nev. -- Firemen at the Fallon Naval Air Station enter a smoke filled building. Visibility is near zero, but there are bodies scattered about and the labored sounds of injured people and those trying to keep them alive.

The chaos is intentional. A building has collapsed after a major earthquake. A survivor works frantically to save a buddy, crying for help. Firemen move carefully through the scene, finding others in the limited visibility, each with some very realistic, even horrifying injury.

Some version of this scene was played out at a number of navy bases in the Western U-S Wednesday morning. Here in Fallon it was a7.5 earthquake centered east of here in Dixie Valley and altogther plausible scenario.

Older residents here can remember just something like that, a series of four quakes, the largest, 7 point one rocked this area in 1954. The damage in town was considerable. This base in those days was much smaller and it escaped largely unscathed. If an even stronger quake hit today, this scene being acted out could be real.

"We would expect with building collapses associated with a 7.4-7.5 earthquake to have some fatalities." says the base's Executive Officer Cmndr. Gene Woodruff, who adds that many of the older buildings here were not built to current earthquake standards.

And so they practice for that possibility.

Everyone knows it's a drill but there's an emphasis on realism.

"They can see it. They can feel it. They can hear it," says the Fire Department's training chief, Dennis Ing. "So that helps the responders feel a sense of urgency."

The smoke, the makeup is all part of keeping it real, but that's only part of it. The firemen didn't know any of this was coming. In fact under the scenario, base communications, even cell phones are down, runners had to be sent to summon them.

Each decision they make as they triage the victims, interact with base medical personnel is a test.

At the end of it all, a debriefing. Lessons learned, for the next time, when all of this might be for real.

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