Imagine a small group of domestic terrorists attacking local infrastructure, leading to injuries and death.
It’s a scenario most people don’t want to think about, but 134 people from 42 Wisconsin clinics and hospitals dealt with that scenario during a week of training in early June at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama.
The center provides emergency responders with the skills they need to respond to and manage incidents. It is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency so participants can attend at no cost to their employers.
“The only thing I had heard beforehand was that it was ‘intense,’ and that described it well,” said Valerie Heise, RN, emergency preparedness coordinator, Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca.
Heise was in the Hospital Emergency Response Team Class. Members of this team protect the hospital during a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or environmental event.
The team is responsible for receiving, decontaminating and stabilizing patients before they get inside the hospital.
“This is very important,” Heise saide. “If a patient who is contaminated with a chemical or other agent and enters the hospital before they are decontaminated, anywhere that patient went is now contaminated. This would mean shutting down that part of the hospital and having that area decontaminated, along with any other people who were in the area, which would incur a considerable cost.”
ThedaCare sent 31 employees, including personnel from all five of its hospitals and emergency rooms, to participate in the event.
Attendees received extensive training related to their professions before coming together for the simulated terrorist exercise.
For the Wisconsin group’s scenario, multiple attacks on a subway system required officials to triage and treat more than 300 patients, who were portrayed by role players and manikins.
Participants engaged in patient triage, patient tracking, hazmat, caring for patients and incident command activities during the mock disaster.
Tracey Froiland is the emergency management coordinator for ThedaCare. She said the training is invaluable since it is very costly for individual communities to put on their own mock disasters.
“We often don’t have the opportunity train along the entire continuum of a disaster and we received that chance in Anniston. We often train parts of it at time, but don’t have the resources to do an entire event from start to finish,” Froiland said. “Training is key. Disasters can be anything from like what we saw at the Boston Marathon to a natural disaster like the tornados in Oklahoma.”
Three of the courses featured only Wisconsin health care partners.
“We did a healthcare leadership course that focused on using the incident command structure while keeping the hospital operational during a big event,” Froiland said. “The other two courses donned Hazmat equipment in 90 degree weather while triaging and treating patients.”
Heise and Dennis Salter, RMC’s emergency department manager, were in the group that donned hazmat suits and breathing apparatus, set up the equipment, worked in the hazmat suits and worked together as a team to achieve their goals.
“The hazmat suits get quite hot especially when the temperature and humidity is hot outside. This quickly takes a toll on the workers,” Heise said. “Everyone needs to watch each other for signs of fatigue, heat related problems, other physical problems, or phychological problems.”