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Disaster drill goes down a storm

Eighty senior residents volunteers with emergency responders on real-time evacuation
by: Jaime Valdez Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Firefighter Kevin Bebb directs 
residents from the Hearthstone at Murrayhill community during an emergency exercise Tuesday.

While most of the greater Portland area looked forward to a clear, sunny Tuesday morning, several elderly Beaverton residents were evacuating their homes in the midst of a severe - if only virtual - windstorm.

As an alarm sounded at 9:30 a.m., staff and 80 residents of Hearthstone at Murrayhill, a senior living community at 10880 S.W. Davies Road, sprang into action.

Following a plan coordinated by Washington County emergency service agencies, area hospitals and the American Red Cross with the Hearthstone staff, a simulated three-day 'weather emergency' culminated with severe winds slicing Hearthstone's third-floor roof.

Residents - or at least those who agreed to participate in the role-playing drill - were left exposed to the elements. Some were 'injured' and needed medical attention.

As residents scurried to lower floors, Hearthstone staff notified emergency personnel as well as residents' relatives - who also were in on the role-playing - to let them know the status of their loved ones.

The injured were transported to area hospitals, while others were evacuated from Hearthstone to Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center on Southwest 125th Avenue.

All in all, the exercise went about as smoothly as could be expected, said Penny Holcomb, Hearthstone's community relations director.

'Everyone was calm and did what needed to be done,' she said.

The drill was designed to test the ability of public agencies and medical personnel to coordinate resources and communicate effectively during high call-volume periods. One of the scenarios involved significant damage to a large residence with a vulnerable population.

The Hearthstone staff and 80 of its 200 senior residents agreed to join in to help the agencies while testing their own readiness in a major weather event involving heavy rain and high winds.

'We chose to participate so we could gain some hands-on experience in carrying out our emergency procedures,' Holcomb said. 'They asked us to participate, and we jumped at the opportunity.'

Agencies participating in the drill with Washington County and the Red Cross included Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Metro West Ambulance, the cities of Beaverton and Tigard and their respective police departments, as well as the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.

While residents and staff stuck as closely as possible to a real weather emergency scenario, factors such as a power outages were left to the imagination.

'Simply because we did not want to affect the lives of the residents who chose not to participate,' Holcomb said.

The drill included the simulated rescue of residents' pets, portrayed on Tuesday by stuffed animals.

'They were put in carriers, evacuated and turned over to animal control,' she said. 'For many of our residents, their animals are more important than anything, so we had to be sure we had systems in place.'

With most aspects going smoothly, one take-away lesson from the exercise, she noted, is that the facility's key personnel aren't as easily identifiable as they could be.

'We learned we need to provide vests to our key personnel so emergency people know who to come to - who to communicate with,' she said.

Cassandra Ulven, government affairs officer with Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, said she was impressed with the execution of the drill and Hearthstone's willingness to jump in.

'I think it went really well. Because of the high number of residents willing to participate, it made it a more authentic field exercise for us,' she said. 'We were very happy with the final result and our ability to meet the residents' needs, to keep them safe and secure.'