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US Military Practices Medical Response to Nuclear Attack

  • Deborah Block

US military practicing in Butlerville, Indiana, against nuclear attack

US military practicing in Butlerville, Indiana, against nuclear attack

A nuclear bomb explosion is an unthinkable disaster and the deaths and casualties would be enormous. But if it happens, the U.S. military wants to be ready to provide medical help. U.S. Army medical personnel recently practiced the techniques they would use to treat people hurt by an atomic blast. The exercises, at a training center in Indiana, were set up to simulate the aftermath of a small nuclear bomb blast, set off in a U.S. city by terrorists.

The mock exercises are designed to be as realistic as possible. Survivors of the atomic blast are in shock and confused. Many have cuts and broken bones from falling debris and burns from the intense heat of the explosion. Both mannequin victims and people playing survivors are part of the training.

The victims are pulled out of rubble. Medical personnel act quickly to respond to injuries and save lives.

"As they're working, right now, with these mannequins and role players, in the real world these are real people, and I want them to get good at quickly identifying any injuries, illnesses," said Major Mark Rosequist, who was leading a medical team.

Rosequist says it is also important to keep track of the survivors and where they go for medical treatment. If the computer system is down, the records have to be kept by hand.

Colonel James Larsen, the chief of training exercises, says the simulated training is vital, even for medical personnel who have experience in treating soldiers with war injuries.

"Working in a field hospital outside of a nuclear, contaminated zone is a little different than working in a combat zone in Iraq or Afghanistan," he said. "They will be dealing with different sorts of injuries, radiological burns."

Here at this radiation decontamination area, people are first treated for wounds, and then decontaminated.

Lieutenant Zacharia Davis says the soldiers are taught how to treat nuclear bomb blast injuries in the classroom. But he says hands-on experience makes all the difference.

"Nothing can really take the place of putting it all together in a simulated, real world situation as preparation for what our final mission would be to actually respond in a real crisis," he said.

Sergeant Will Blair, a medic, is decontaminating victims in a protective suit in extremely hot temperatures. He says the training is fast-paced, chaotic and stressful.

"Wearing the suit, and being quick on your feet, and helping the people, and reassuring casualties, if they're conscious, and lifting and moving them," he said.

If they are not careful, the soldiers can also become victims. These soldiers get overheated and dehydrated in the decontamination suits. They are given fluids intravenously.

The soldiers say they just have to endure the hardship, and continue the medical help, which could save thousands of lives.