Last Friday we conducted a whole station search and rescue exercise. In Antarctica, safety is an ever present concern as the environment is unforgiving and we are a long way from outside help. Because of this we need to be very careful in how we conduct ourselves and we need to be able to respond to emergencies when they do arise with only the skills and experience that our small group of expeditioners brings with us. Fortunately, amongst the Casey wintering team, there exists a range of skills in technical rescue, wilderness first aid and other specialties that can be an important part of an emergency response. During the course of the year we undertake various drills and exercises that help hone existing skills, teach new ones and assist us to learn to work effectively as a team.
On Friday we set a scenario where two expeditioners had found trouble when away from station on quad bikes. We had a garbled radio call come in giving us effectively no useful information and in response we set off the SAR alarm and responded to the incident as if it were real. Initially it was very important to gather as much information as we could about where the missing expeditioners may have been, what route they followed, what they were wearing, how they were feeling etc. This all would help us determine where to look and what additional factors would affect how we responded to the incident. While the incident response team gathered and assessed the information, the first responders and second responders made themselves and their equipment ready and others on station attended to critical duties like communications, preparing the medical suite to receive a casualty, final checks on vehicles and ensuring that food, drink, maps, blankets and other items were ready to be taken into the field to support the whole operation.
The scenario was set to be deliberately difficult and information poor in order to test our ability to deduce what had happened and to conduct a search of a large area. The weather conditions for the day were fine, with the temperature around −20 and winds mostly below 20 knots.
Several hours after the incident started our ‘lost’ and ‘injured’ expeditioners were located by first responders Cam and Dan and eventually retrieved and taken back to station where the medical team had set up the clinic for anaesthesia and surgery. Once we had everyone back on station, we conducted a debrief for about an hour before the doctor and the lay surgical assistants continued with the medical/surgical component of the emergency response exercise.
We were very happy with how the day unfolded and SAR Leader Jason made it clear to the whole the team that he was pleased with their performance. Everybody knew their role and conducted themselves extremely well, both as individuals and as part of the team. We were well prepared and progressed through the exercise at a rate consistent with expectations. Whilst we identified some improvements that we could incorporate in the future, we concluded that we were well prepared for the start of the busy summer season and the influx of another 60 people at the end of the month. But the key lessons reinforced at the end of the day were to be careful, be safe and follow procedure. This is not the place to be getting into trouble in the field.
Mark Hunt, Station Leader