Monday, December 22, 2008

Hospital Security and Disaster Preparedness

Chris Van Gorder at EMS Responder published an article last week on emergency training at hospitals.

Reports of a suspected bioterrorism attack have sparked panic in the community. Worried residents swarm the region's major hospital for diagnosis and treatment and confusion quickly turns to chaos. Military helicopters thunder onto the hospital's helipad, where dozens of police officers disembark to battle a disaster within a disaster—pandemonium on hospital grounds in the midst of a public health emergency.

This was just part of the action-packed script for a landmark emergency training event in San Diego in summer 2008. Believed to be the first large-scale disaster event to link federal, state and local government agencies with private-sector healthcare officials, the drill enabled participants to practice what it really takes to secure the campus of a major hospital during a crisis.

Led by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the San Diego Police Department, the Golden Phoenix '08 hospital protection event also included personnel from San Diego County's EMS system, the U.S. Marine Corps, FBI, DEA and Department of Homeland Security. What differentiated this exercise from previous events was the involvement of the host, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, part of the nonprofit Scripps Health system in San Diego.

The Golden Phoenix '08 exercise was specifically designed to test the operations, communications and security capabilities of multiple agencies and Scripps working together in an emergency on a major hospital campus. It served as a bellwether for future emergency and disaster training efforts by breaking through old assumptions that hospitals are self-sufficient during disasters—somehow fortified against a public surge and the disruption to care this would cause. This drill served notice that private healthcare personnel must work shoulder to shoulder with other first responders in the community to ensure hospitals are protected as key community assets during times of disaster….

Reading about more and more agencies having to make cuts to personnel or services due to funding shortfalls, it makes sense to plan on a multi-agency response to disasters. Hospitals will be facing increased admissions simply due to patients who have run out of prescription medications. Local municipalities will be laying off staff or cutting back on services. Major disasters will require support from other regional assets or federal agencies.

Advances in genetics and bio-enigneering increases the chance of a terrorist group of developing a biological or chemical weapon that could lead to mass casualties. Hospital staff could be quickly overwhelmed in trying to manage patient care with federal agencies swarming all over the ward. Practicing for this before it becomes necessary makes good sense. However, given the mood of the country now with a disastrous economy such exercises may be seen as an attempt by the federal government to take over.

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