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Earthquake scenario trains disaster response specialists

By Leanne Miles

Dr Ben Fisk attends the simulated search and rescue training Dr Ben Fisk attends the simulated search and rescue training

A Charles Darwin University lecturer has returned from an event that saw some of the world’s leaders in disaster management gather for training in simulated search and rescue disaster scenarios.

A paramedic for more than 15 years, Dr Ben Fisk has always had a passion for helping people. As a Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance paramedic with Ambulance Victoria, he has also undertaken deployments with the Australian Defence Force and Federal Police in stabilisation operations in the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

The senior lecturer in Humanitarian, Emergency and Disaster Management Studies joined CDU six months ago and recently was invited to attend the International Urban Search and Rescue (IUSAR) course in Singapore.

“I have been working towards becoming more involved in humanitarian work for some time,” Dr Fisk said. “There is so much more to learn about the role of paramedics in disaster response. It was an amazing opportunity to be invited to train at the facility.”

Dr Fisk said the two-week course brought together a range of multidisciplinary participants from humanitarian-related fields, such as paramedics, hazardous materials experts, police and defence, from Australia, Korea, China, India, Azerbaijan and Singapore.

IUSAR is a specialist resource that assists victims who have been trapped or affected by a structural collapse, such as the Thredbo landslide of 1997, the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake in 2004, or the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand in 2011. Each of these events included the collapse of buildings and structures without warning, leaving the victims little or no time to escape.

“As part of the course we responded to a simulated structural collapse as the result of a high magnitude earthquake,” Dr Fisk said. “The 30-hour simulation required us to plan and assess the situation, and then implement our skills in search and rescue, such as using cutting and shoring equipment to access confined spaces and rescue casualties.”

He said the facility at the Singapore Civil Defence Academy was purpose built to allow for a realistic simulation exercise and used specialised equipment, communications and guidelines to help locate, provide medical assistance and extract trapped victims.

“The course included theory and practical components in the tactics and techniques of conducting search and rescue operations in multiple scenarios,” he said. “It was also a great opportunity to share knowledge and ideas with people from around the world about the latest techniques and concepts related to providing disaster response and humanitarian assistance.”

Dr Fisk said it was vital that the teaching program at CDU be informed by current practice.

“It is essential that our students are exposed to the most up-to-date techniques and practices in humanitarian assistance and disaster management,” he said. “I can now share and explain the concepts and principles in managing and handling rescue operations in an urban disaster setting.”