On Wednesday night, United Hatzalah of Israel held a mass-casualty-incident drill that simulated a bridge collapsing on Highway 38. The drill took place at the National Police Academy in the industrial section of Beit Shemesh. Participating in the drill together with United Hatzalah was the fire department, the police department, the IDF’s Homefront Command as well as IDF Search and Rescue and K-9 units, and the municipality’s security division.

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Mayor Aliza Bloch addressing the volunteers after the drill (Photo credit – Shira Hershkop)

Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch spoke to the gathered volunteers and first responders immediately after the training drill concluded. “We, unfortunately, have become very experienced with mass casualty incidents in the past half a year here in Israel. Everyone knows where they were when Meron occurred, or on the night that we went from two cases of Corona in a school in Beit Shemesh to 150 and the next day to 500. We all, unfortunately, can relate to mass incidents whether they occur naturally or because of human error. We all know how difficult it is to deal with them, even if we want to live good lives, there are always disasters that take place. The one thing that determines whether or not a disaster is a small disaster or a large-scale one is not luck, but rather whether the people who were there at the time when it occurs know how to deal with it and respond.”

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Scene from the drill (Photo credit, Shira Herhskop)

Bloch added: “Even though the reason we are meeting is that there are a lot of disasters, I am very moved to see what happened here tonight. The vast majority of these people here who are participating in this drill are from Beit Shemesh. Residents of Beit Shemesh from age 9- people in their 50s and 60s from all population groups in the city have all said that they want to be people who help, who learn how to help, who step outside of their comfort zones, to be prepared for a call to help when an emergency occurs. This is the type of people we have and that is what you all have in common and that is very moving for me. People who go out and help another even if they don’t know them, who put their egos aside and work together. The IDF, the Home Front Command, members of the Security team from Beit Shemesh, the Fire Department and Police Department, and of course the dozens of volunteers from United Hatzalah, your cooperation is laudable and deserves applause.”

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United Hatzalah volunteers triaging the patients (photo credit: Shira Hershkop)

Bloch said that the timing of the drill is also not a coincidence: “At this time of year when we are commemorating a disaster that took place 1951 years ago, a disaster which we are still afraid may happen again, this here is the true answer to that disaster. People working together out of love, kindness, the desire to help others, and honoring one another, that is the answer. And if we are called upon once again to respond to a disaster, I for one as a resident of Israel and as the Mayor of Beit Shemesh and comforted to know that we have the best people, who have the best training, and who are the most caring and know how to work together. To all the volunteers of United Hatzalah and those in charge, I salute you and thank you. You are the shining example of what it means for Beit Shemesh to be a beautiful city.”

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Simulated victims awaiting treatment at the scene of the accident as part of the drill (Photo credit: Shira Hershkop)

The drill included nearly 100 EMS volunteers from United Hatzalah as well as members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Team from Beit Shemesh and the surrounding area. The team utilized ambucycles, 10 ambulances, an ATV, drones, as well as specialized small search and rescue vehicles for disaster areas. In addition, more than 100 community participants portrayed the role of injured victims from the simulated bridge collapse and resulting vehicular accidents that included a school bus crash, a minibus crash,  a truck crash, and a car crash. In order to make the situation more lifelike and chaotic, pyrotechnics were used including smoke machines, noise simulators, and specialized makeup and suits that were worn by those portraying the simulated injuries, many of whom were children ages 9-18.

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The first responder at the scene begins patient triage during the drill in Beit Shemesh (Photo credit: Shira Hershkop)

“The drill was a huge success,” said Vice President of Operations for United Hatzalah Dov Maisel. In light of the recent mass casualty incidents in Israel and Surfside, Miami which our teams responded to, we recognized the need to continue training all of our volunteers across the country so that they can gain first-hand experience in responding to a mass casualty incident. These are scenes of complete chaos and it is essential that the chain of command not be broken during an incident like this. Our responders need to know how to triage large-scale disasters and a massive number of patients. They need to know how to act when everything around them is falling apart. Another vital part of these drills is training our team leaders how to coordinate and cooperate flawlessly with the other forces that will undoubtedly be responding to these emergencies and I want to thank the Fire Department, the Police, the IDF’s Homefront Command, and the City of Beit Shemesh for their assistance and cooperation in making this drill the success that it was.”

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Placing a simulated patient on a stretcher to be taken to the larger triage and evacuation area. (Photo credit: Shira Hershkop)

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