Unfortunate yet Necessary
On Point with Chris Papst
Once every two years, the Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap conducts a series of intense disaster training drills. The idea, of course, is to keep the homeland safe - a noble and vital endeavor if there ever was one. Late last month, the northern end of the fort was made to simulate the immediate aftermath of such an attack. It was complete with destroyed cars, crumbling buildings, protective radiation suits and suffering people. It represented the culmination of countless hours of training for hundreds of our finest Army Reservists.
Guardsman Scott Nelson justified the exercise perfectly during our interview: “The next attack that comes through probably won’t be airplanes. It will be something including WMD, nuclear bomb, chemical agent, things like that.” And we need to prepare.
In an effort to make the situation as realistic as possible, 139 role-players were hired. And each one had a different malady. Some pretended to be affected by radiation while others lay dying of blood loss. Many were in full character, which included realistic makeup and props. Their jobs were simple; make the scene as stressful as possible. From the initial attack to medical treatment, all aspects of a catastrophic attack were addressed, including what many would consider unfortunate, yet necessary.
After the interview, while my photographer gathered video and sound, I stood in the back talking to Nelson. After the initial attack was stabilized, the soldiers helped the victims to the medical tents for treatment. The role-players were very convincing. Some were crying, others were screaming and a few were being incredibly difficult and unreasonable.
One of the role-players who entered the tent was yelling for her husband, asking if he was alive. I asked Nelson if she was instructed to do that. Not only did he say yes, he said that was a very important part of the exercise. If the soldiers aren't careful in how they respond, they could get sued. Not only that, they can get sued if the person they are caring for has complaints about the care. Amazingly, the soldiers – who are putting themselves in danger – can be sued by the person they are saving. It's hard to believe, but I'm told it's happened before.
Instead of focusing on medical techniques or enhanced logistics, these soldiers must spend time learning how to avoid lawsuits following a terrorist attack. It is not unreasonable to assume this will inevitability cost lives that would otherwise be saved.
I understand there is a need for trial lawyers who file class-action or individual suits against defendants who act unethically or inappropriately. But I also understand we live in a litigious society where many hope the next accident or mishap can make them rich. That mentality is costly enough in terms of societal impact. But now our emergency responders must worry about the legality of their heroism?
In the moments following a terrorist strike, I cannot see myself taking issue with the selfless actions of anyone who's trying to save lives. If feel the greater good must prevail. But the reality is, the Army National Guard knows there are people who will. So, they must prepare for that, as well.
Nelson concluded our conversation by saying, “It’s all about keeping Americans safe. We want to get out there and save American lives.” Which is exactly what they do. But unfortunately they also have be trained on how to avoid ending up in a courtroom.
Chris Papst is a two-time Emmy Award winning reporter for CBS-21 news.