Evacuation centre ready for use within just a few hours

Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross
Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross
Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross
Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross
Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross
Aino Salmi / Finnish Red Cross

The evacuation centre can be used in disaster situations in Finland or nearby areas. The centre was tested as part of a catastrophe exercise carried out on the Estonian island of Saaremaa on 14–15 September.

A fire has broken out in a hospital, causing injuries of varying degrees to some patients, and putting other patients and staff in a highly dangerous situation. The patients and residents of the local area must be evacuated to safety, away from the disaster site. Patient safety must not be put at risk, and all patients must be provided with the same level of safety and care as before the fire broke out.

This is a fictional situation, but this kind of scenario could occur for real anywhere in the world. Catastrophes in which people must be quickly evacuated could occur in Finland, too. Whilst the authorities take charge in such situations, the Red Cross is also ready to help if the authorities require additional resources.

The Finnish Red Cross has developed an evacuation centre for use in disaster situations such as the one described above. The evacuation centre can be set up quickly, close to the site of the incident and the evacuation hospital.

– At the centre, casualties can be registered to establish who they are and what kind of help they require. First aid and emotional support can also be provided at the evacuation centre, states the Red Cross’s International Health Care Planning Officer Johanna Arvo

– The evacuation centre can be used throughout Finland, and within just a few hours it can even be transported beyond Finland’s borders, explains Arvo.


Evacuation centre helps those in shock

The Finnish Red Cross’s evacuation centre was tested as part of a catastrophe exercise on Saaremaa during the second week of September. The scenario was the hospital fire described above, and the volunteer actors participating in the exercise played the roles of casualties evacuated from the hospital fire.

Aid workers and volunteers from the Estonian Red Cross hosted the exercise, in collaboration with Estonian Disaster Relief Team volunteers. During the exercise, the Red Cross’s primary aim was to test the new evacuation centre, as well as testing the registration system and the Green Café, which serves as a part of the evacuation centre.

The Green Café serves as a reception point for those who do not require hospital treatment. The name refers to the green colour used in the triage system, where a patient’s treatment priority is assessed. Green is used to indicate a person who is not injured or a patient whose injuries do not require immediate hospital treatment.


– We use the colour red to indicate that the patient has life-threatening injuries and is in urgent need of treatment. The colour yellow also indicates that the person requires hospital treatment, but not as urgently as those assigned to the red category. If the patient can walk unaided, they will probably be classified as green, explains Doctor Teuvo Määttä.

While the evacuation hospital treats the injured, the evacuation centre’s Green Café helps those in shock and others in need of assistance. Volunteers talk to people and assess their needs. One of the most important steps following an incident is contacting the relatives or friends of casualties.

Emotions can fluctuate following an incident

Approximately an hour after the start of the exercise and the outbreak of the fictional fire, there is a serious atmosphere in the Green Café. Those evacuated from the fire have been given something to eat and drink and appear calm.
– There’s a great deal of variation in the emotional responses people exhibit following an incident. Some may be calm on arrival, yet become more upset later on, or the other way round. We have to be prepared for everything, explains Riitta Merri, the aid worker coordinating Green Café operations.
In Merri’s estimation, sandwiches and juice are fine for about five hours, but after this people begin to need warm food. If the evacuees are taking medication for chronic illnesses, care is taken to make sure that the medication is provided. These needs, amongst others, can be taken care of in the evacuation centre.
It is impossible to predict in advance how long the evacuation centre will be required for at a time. The authorities make the decisions on when the centre is required and when it can be closed. Either the situation calms down and people are returned home, or temporary accommodation is sought for them.
– If a person suffering from shock as a result of the incident is going home, I make sure to ask them two things before they leave: what are you going to do this evening? What are you going to do tomorrow? Merri explains.
– These questions help the person remember that tomorrow is a new day and their safe, everyday life awaits. These kinds of distressing events are the exception rather than the norm, says Merri.


Green Café assistants are volunteers

Without assistants, there would be no evacuation centre, so volunteers have a key role to play. Estonian Red Cross volunteers from all over Estonia provided assistance in the Saaremaa catastrophe exercise. All had experience of first aid activities, but providing emotional support was a new experience for many.  

–For a while at the start of the exercise it felt chaotic, with lots of people arriving at the tent at the same time. However, we stayed calm and didn’t panic, says volunteer Sigrid Vainult from the Pärnu branch.

The volunteers felt that the fictional incident and aid situation was realistic. However, disaster situations are unpredictable by nature.

–Every situation is different, and people’s reactions vary. We can’t prepare for absolutely everything, explains Hiie Lainela.


Secretary General of the Estonian Red Cross Riina Kabi was pleased that the exercise provided trained volunteers with practical experience too.

– Practise and practise some more – that’s the best thing we can do. We can have perfectly laid-out plans on paper, but the exercises help us learn what to do when things don’t go to plan. The exercises allow us to improve our ability to think outside the box – which is vital in such situations, says Kabi.

The Saaremaa catastrophe exercise was held on 14–15 September. Participants included 14 Finnish aid workers, 21 aid workers and volunteers from the Estonian Red Cross, and 60 volunteers from the Estonian Disaster Relief Team.
Text: Anna Kaipainen
Images: Aino Salmi