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Emergency responders practice for future disasters

SALT LAKE CITY — After Tuesday, Salt Lake emergency responders are a bit more prepared for a disaster.

A drill at the Salt Lake Central FrontRunner station simulated a bombing, with actors acting as bomb victims and emergency responders conducting medical procedures as if the situation was real.

One main goal of the drill was to help the various agencies — including Salt Lake police and firefighters, the FBI, the Utah Transit Authority and other organizations — work together and practice their separate duties outside of a real emergency.

“I think the more practice that we have, the more times that we do these scenarios and conduct these operations, it makes something that could be extremely messy and chaotic a little bit less,” said UTA safety officer Daniel Riley. "It’s to give everyone a chance to come out and practice with us.”

About 25 volunteers stepped off a FrontRunner train with fake blood and wounds while screaming in an effort to make the simulation as realistic as possible.

"It was kind of a scary experience because it can actually happen," said Tayler Bullock, a 15-year-old volunteer from Lehi.

The simulation victims were also decontaminated, examined and evaluated by the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

“It’s just a really good opportunity to practice because when you’re really in the middle of it, you don’t have an opportunity to correct or learn from it in the same way," said Salt Lake fire spokeswoman Audra Sorenson. “It gives us a chance to just kind of check our processes, check our skill sets, check our communication flow, check our resources.”

Although UTA conducts at least two drills a year, as required by the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, Tuesday's drill was larger than previous tests because there were three locations involved.

The West Valley TRAX station and Salt Lake Central FrontRunner station both simulated aftereffects of a bomb Tuesday. On Wednesday, Salt Lake County will support a multiagent Family Assistance Center at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Every exercise we try to outdo ourselves a little more,” Riley said, adding that the organizations try and increase the size of each simulation.

While the goal of the simulation was to help the various emergency response organizations work together, they also practiced their separate duties as if the situations were real.

Susan Reinertson, chief of emergency management and corporate security for Amtrak, stressed the importance of keeping track of passengers coming from different trains if a disaster occurred at a multi-train station.

"We have different responding agencies. … We have to make sure that we practice together so that if something were to happen like this for real, we have shared our plans together and talked about how to do things,” she said.

Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, said an important message of the simulation was to remind the public "these agencies … are sitting down and coming together to make sure that they’re going to do the very best job they can.”

Dougherty added that another important purpose is to make sure all agencies were well trained on responding to trauma.

"Because it’s such an overwhelming type situation, it strains all of your resources, so you want to make sure as many of your responders are as well trained as they can be," he said.