Gladys tried to remember what she had learned in her disaster preparedness class. Was it stay away from the windows or was it go to the windows? She felt her way along the wall until she felt the window ledge. She parted the blinds and saw a glimpse of green through the haze. She felt the cool of the window and pressed her face up against it. She could see movement outside.
“HELP US! WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Gladys screamed as she banged on the window. The rescue worker looked up in horror and rushed off. Gladys again screamed “HELP US! WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE! HELP US!” She pulled herself from the security barred window in hopeless defeat and sat on the floor. That is when she saw the elderly woman. She was hurt and confused. She was walking into walls and falling over furniture. Gladys got up to help her but tripped over something. It was something large and lifeless. She bit back her terror and whimpered “over here! Come over here.” The elderly woman came toward her then starting screeching “Morris? Where is my husband Morris?” Gladys tried again to reach out to the woman she remembered as Jane, but it was too late, she had disappeared into the smoke.
Gladys once again went to the window and tried to peer out. She could see the devastation. The body trapped under the concrete slab. There was smoke and fire everywhere. She could here the rescue team but they were locked up tight in the community center.
The 7.9 earthquake had occurred just as they had all gathered in the center for their quarterly meeting. Gladys had no idea it had been a 7.9 quake only that there had been one. She knew that there was carnage and chaos and she was trapped in the wreckage of the building. She wasn’t sure if Kahuna had made it all the way into the building before the shaking started. She hadn’t seen him but then again there was so much happening. The ceiling falling and the fire in the other room had commanded most of her attention. She was frightened and confused.
She crawled along the wall until she felt another body. She got close and saw her husband lying on his side. She shook him “Kahuna! Are you okay?” He rolled slightly and opened his eyes “are you okay honey” he asked in a raspy voice. He coughed and tried to sit up.
“I’m okay. My head hurts really bad. I saw some rescuers outside but they are taking a really long time getting to us” Gladys replied. She scooted closer to her husband and whispered “I think that guy is dead” as she pointed toward the large man in the naval uniform.
Kahuna coughed another lung racking cough and sputtered “I think this kid on the other side of me is too.”
Gladys crawled back to the window and raised the blinds. She banged on the cracked glass and screamed again “HURRY UP! WE ARE DYING IN HERE! SOMEONE CALL 9*1*1!” Then she heard other voices in the smoke starting to yell. The cries were coming from the kitchen and the meeting room. There were others who were crying out for help but she couldn’t get to them.
The door opened and she saw a little light then heard voices. “You go check the other room, we will sweep this area” came the voices in the dark. Gladys was anxious and afraid. She tried to reach out to the rescuer but they had passed her by. Gladys went into a panic. She bolted for the door but was stopped by a petite woman in a green hard hat. “What’s your name? Where are you from?” the woman spit out. Gladys just wanted outside. She wanted to be free from this cavernous black hole. She sprinted for the door breaking free of her capture. She went toward the light. Just then two men also in green hard hats grabbed her. One man took each elbow and lifted her from her feet. They carried her to a stretcher where another woman in a green hard hat started pinching her finger and dabbing at her head.
“Where is my husband? Where is my dog” Gladys cried. “Stop touching me! I want my husband” she screamed. The lady in the green hard hat patted her on the shoulder and replied “I’m sure your husband and dog are fine. Just lie back and let me look you over.”
Gladys didn’t want to lie back. She wanted to find her husband and her dog. She wanted to walk around and breathe the fresh air. Why were these people making her do things she didn’t want to do? Why were they there? She was cold. She was confused. She wanted to find her dog.
The woman in the green hard hat wrapped something around Gladys’ throbbing head. Then she felt for her pulse “Ma’am you need to slow down your breathing” Ms. Greenhardhat commanded. Gladys looked up at the deranged woman and wondered what in the hell she was talking about. She was just breathing. “Ma’am what is your name” Ms Greenhardhat asked condescendingly.
Gladys didn’t like this woman in the green hard hat and wanted to get away from her as soon as possible. “My name is Gladys. Now where the hell is my dog and my husband” Gladys responded.
Ms. Greenhardhat looked around just as a stretcher with a young girl was placed on the green tarp next to Gladys. “Yes, dear, um Grace did you say? I am sure they are fine. Now just lie here and be still. I will be back to check on you in a few minutes.” Then Ms. Greenhardhat went on to help the poor pale blond girl.
Gladys looked around. She saw Jane sitting on a stretcher on a blue tarp. She was talking to a young man in a green hard hat. He looked like he might know where little Bozley was. Gladys got up and started toward the blue tarp. She was almost there when she was tackled by another woman in a green hard hat. The woman grabbed her and dragged her back to her stretcher. She grabbed her face and looked at her eyes then she pinched her fingernail. “OUCH! I want my DOG!” Gladys cried. The woman in the hard hat shook her head “No ma’am you’ve been through a shock and you have a gash on your head. You need to just lie back and relax. Some one will find your dog for you. What does he look like?”
Gladys took a deep breath “he is a little white fluffy dog. He is really stubborn though and doesn’t come too good when you call him. Oh and he will pee on you if you try to pick him up.” Then she sat up and looked around “have you seen my husband? He is here somewhere. Could you find my husband? His name is Kahuna.” The woman in the hard hat patted Gladys and replied “Of Course.” Then she left.
Gladys sat up on the stretcher again and looked around at the chaos and cried “I want my doggie. I want my husband!” She edged herself off the stretcher and began going from cot to cot “Have you seen my doggie?” She grabbed the young boy’s arm and shook him. She looked down at him and saw the cold dead eyes. “OH MY GAWD HE’S DEAD! HE’S DEAD! THIS BOY IS DEAD!”
Once again a green hard hatt-ed worker grabbed Gladys and dragged her back to her stretcher. Gladys would not go down easy this time. She fought and screamed. “THAT BOY IS DEAD! I WANT MY DOGGIE! WHERE IS MY HUSBAND? OH MY GAWD THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING HERE!”
A young man in a green hard hat came over to her with a clipboard “Ma’am, I’ve gone back in that building 5 times looking for a little white dog and I haven’t seen him. I promise I will keep looking for him if you will just lie back and relax.” Gladys looked at the young man and thought “I am bleeding out my head, my dog and my husband are missing and you want me to relax?” She gave him a half smile and lowered herself back to the stretcher. He smiled back at her and turned to go.
Gladys waited until the green hats weren’t looking and once again she sprang up from her perch. She began making her rounds looking for her dog. Then on the red tarp she spotted Kahuna. She dragged her bad leg over to him and wrapped her arms around him. “HONEY! Oh honey! I am so glad to see you! Have you seen Bozz? Are you okay? You have blood all over you?”
Kahuna looked up at her and smiled “ma’am do I know you?” Then he turned back to the green hatter and replied “I don’t think I’m on any medication except for Aricept or is it Viagra? Maybe it’s Cialas.” Gladys butted in “he isn’t on any of those medications. He is on Benacort for his blood pressure. They should be in his pocket. Now have YOU seen my little dog?” The green hatter looked around and motioned to someone.
Once again Gladys was grabbed up and carted back to her stretcher. This time by a large woman in a green hard hat. She looked at Gladys and put her finger in her face “Ma’am, you need to stay put. You need to lie here and be quiet so we can take care of these other people. Now do as you are told or I will get a rope and tie you to this stretcher.”
Gladys started to rise but then thought better of it and squeaked out “will you find my doggie?” The green hatter snorted and walked off. Gladys did as she was told for a moment but then couldn’t contain her another minute and got up once again. She wondered through the make shift hospital and watched as 3 men worked to free the poor soul from under the huge hunk of concrete. She walked up and asked “have you seen my doggie? He’s white and about this big?” They grunted and groaned as they lifted the large rock with the pry bar. She wondered past the trailer full of supplies and back into the burning community center yelling “here Bozz! Here boy.”
Next thing she knew she was once again being marched back to her stretcher. Jane was chattering on about something over on another cot. “Jane? Are you okay?” Gladys asked. The elderly woman stopped her chattering and looked at Gladys. She coughed and sniffed and said “have you seen Morris? I can’t find Morris.” Gladys looked around the various tarps and replied “nope, but Jane I don’t remember him coming with you. Was Morris with you when you got here?” Jane got up from her seat and came over to Gladys. She stood over Gladys and started yelling “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR TALKING ABOUT! YOU’RE CRAZY!” Then she stormed off in the direction of the center.
The whistle blue and Fire Chief Dan said “FREEZE”. The green hatters, the victims, the dead and the firemen all stopped and looked at Chief Dan. He cleared his throat and announced “THE DRILL IS OVER.” Gladys relaxed and looked over at Jane. The two of them began to laugh. The green hatter next to Gladys snorted “are you a professional actress? If you aren’t you need to go to Hollywood and become one.” Gladys giggled.
Chief Dan looked at Gladys then at the rest of the group “what was the biggest mistake you all made?” The green hard hatt-ed emergency workers looked at one another and shot out a couple of “well we didn’t get the fire out quick enough” and “we forgot to turn the gas off right away” and another yelled out “we left the dummy under the concrete too long”. Chief Dan shook his head then he pointed his finger right at Gladys “No! You spent way too much time with that crazy woman. She was fine. She was walking and talking. You guys were busy looking for her dog and carrying her back to her cot! You should have just stuck a rag in her mouth, tied her to the cot and got on with your jobs!”
Gladys smiled knowing she had done her job well. Chief Dan had asked her to create chaos and chaos she had given him. Now it was time to wash the fake blood and bruises from her face and hair but not before her, Bozz and Kahuna stopped at Dairy Queen for some ice cream.
I participated in this exercise as part of the Community Emergency Response Team. Check your local Fire Department and see how you can become involved.