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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Preparedness and response training attributed to saving lives in Ouray, Colorado, mining accident

An almost eerily timed mining accident struck outside of the small south western town of Ouray, CO, where only hours earlier the emergency response community had gathered together to be part of a special training on the Mass Casualty Incident Command System (MCICS).

On November 16, 2013, miners at the Revenue-Virginius mine were engulfed with poisonous carbon monoxide gases. Tragically two of the men died on the scene, but 20 others survived. Through the steady flow of well-orchestrated communications, a team of 30 responders, including dispatchers, were able to coordinate bed availability quickly in area hospitals, as well as track patients so that all of the miners were accounted for and could be transported to pre-identified hospitals across the area.

According to Ouray County Emergency Manager Glen Boyd, this event was the first time Ouray County established a transportation leader and group in a real emergency, and it worked extremely well. Boyd stressed that the training before the large scale event allowed them to build trust and confidence between emergency response workers, and believed that was one of the main reasons things went smoothly.

“More than we may ever realize the training the day before this tragic event made us a better, stronger and more collaborative team,” he explained.

One miner was flown out by helicopter. Five of the injured were taken to Delta Memorial Hospital and another five were transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, while nine survivors were taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital. Because of the rural setting, all facilities were located in different directions.

Almost all of the volunteer responders knew the two men who died, Boyd said, as he reflected on that day. They had to put aside their grief and, faced with snowy, narrow roads and treacherous terrain, they quickly had to put into place a well-coordinated shuttle system to move the patients to ambulances that were waiting for them five miles down the mountainside. The responders used transfer vehicles, such as trucks, Jeeps and SUVs to transport patients to a staging area.

Smaller communities often face difficult challenges during mass casualties when their systems and capabilities become over whelmed, according to John Putt, president of the Operational Consulting Group in Denver. Putt’s group partners with the Colorado Hospital Preparedness Program and the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response to offer the Mass Casualty Incident Command System (MCICS) trainings, funded in part by the National Hospital Preparedness Program.

Building strong relationships between health care partners and community organizations is critical to develop better capabilities and meet the needs of communities, he said.

The importance of these relationships is highlighted, too, as a required capability for hospitals participating in the National Hospital Preparedness Program. As the team in Ouray County found, training together as a coalition can save lives in an actual emergency response.

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  • This page last reviewed: December 09, 2013