ST. LOUIS – In the event of a natural disaster, St. Louis and surrounding areas are preparing through a natural disaster simulation, mimicking mass casualties and responses.

The effects of a natural disaster can come in a matter of minutes. It is the National Disaster Medical System’s (NDMS) request to prepare in the event of a disaster response.

From evaluating conditions and unloading the plane to loading the stretcher and transporting it on the ambulance, agencies joined together to prepare for disaster response at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

“We’re doing patient movement, simulated from a hurricane that struck in Louisiana,” said Derek McDonald, an emergency management director for Veterans Affairs (VA).

Some, who have seen that exact situation, brought their previously learned skills and knowledge to Wednesday’s simulated natural disaster involving mass casualties.

“Katrina, probably being the worst I’ve seen,” said John Nowak, general manager at MedStar Ambulance.

Nowak has worked in emergency response for 44 years; he’s been at the scene of nearly 10 natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

“Nothing that I’ve ever seen before in my life,” Nowak said.

The site of complete devastation left thousands with nowhere to call home.

“Walking into New Orleans … I walked into 40,000 people, about 19,000 were medical, the rest were evacuees,” Nowak said.

To help those who face similar devastation, they’re preparing in St. Louis. With the city’s central location and strong medical community, it could be key to helping the coasts. With the help of 27 hospitals ready to help, 80 role players (and real players) helped execute Wednesday’s simulation at the airport.

“The St. Louis VA is charged with moving patients during times of disaster,” McDonald said.

He said that part of NDMS’ interest in further coordinating the St. Louis Federal Coordination Center was due to the resources that are accessible in the area.

As patients and professionals moved through the hours-long mock trial, they gained a better understanding of what their response would look like if the situation was real.

“It shows the community what the VA can do in conjunction with all of our partners,” McDonald said.

As the VA takes the government lead in coordinating responses, it’s been years since they’ve had a trial run. The new equipment is helping to locate and track everyone’s whereabouts.

“We have one objective, to receive, triage, and transport patients to a hospital in the greater St. Louis area, that’s our objective,” McDonald said.