Patty Rider, MSHA infection prevention practitioner (left); Tracey Rhodes, MSHA Washington County infection prevention manager; Jamie Swift, MSHA corporate director of infection prevention. Contributed photo.
In a crisis, people revert back to their training, so every bit of high-quality training an organization can receive makes it better equipped to handle a major emergency.
Members of Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), along with other regional emergency personnel, recently returned from an intensive week at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. Using the CDP’s state-of-the-art, comprehensive training facility, the group was coached on how to prepare for and react to a major emergency — in this case a train derailment causing contamination and mass casualties.
The CDP is operated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It was a really valuable week of training,” said Billy Teilhet, MSHA’s corporate director of biomedical engineering. “We had several days of classroom training and then three days of actual emergency management exercises utilizing a real hospital and incident command center.
“Homeland Security makes the training as realistic as you can get so you’re much better prepared for a real disaster incident. We got to learn to work with outside agencies and federal partners like you would be expected to in a real situation.”
The training visit was organized by the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department and included personnel from Wellmont Health System as well as the Knoxville and Blount County area, plus a couple of responders from outside the region. MSHA had 20 members in the group of about 30 people.
“We had great support from senior leadership to do this,” Teilhet said. “Bill Alton, our vice president of construction and facilities management, had attended some previous training in Anniston so he knew first-hand the benefits of this.
“MSHA is very serious about emergency management. If something really happens, we want to be ready to take care of people.”
The cost of the training was covered by a grant from the federal government.
The team worked from the Noble Training Facility, a former Army hospital. It is the only hospital facility in the country dedicated to training hospital and health-care professionals in disaster preparedness and response. It includes various offices, classrooms, simulation areas and labs, plus two prototype mass casualty decontamination training lanes.
The training culminated in the Integrated Capstone Event (ICE), which was the derailment simulation.
MSHA’s Jamie Swift, corporate director for infection prevention, was on the team.
“It was a very real environment,” she said. “There were actors who were very engaged in their roles. At one point we had a Code Pink (missing child or infant) and a woman played a mother who was screaming and in tears. You can practice a Code Pink here at home, but until you really have to deal with someone like that, you don’t know what it’s like.
“We were decontaminating the patients and bringing them into the ER and handling them just like we would a true emergency. You literally had to work through it all and get your patients taken care of. It wasn’t like a drill, it was just like doing the real thing.”
Even the CDP’s mannequins were extremely realistic. They could breathe, cry, talk and respond to medicine.
The emergency situation began at 5:30 a.m. at breakfast with a news announcement about the derailment. As the team sprang into action and followed emergency protocol, different problems popped up that forced them to respond in real time.
Dealing with the crisis also gave the group a chance to see how important it is to work together, not just within your own organization but with others.
“One of the big things we learned is to not operate in a silo,” Teilhet said. “You have city, county, state and federal resources and you have to know when to ask for assistance. Wellmont is normally our competitor, but we learned to work with them on something like this. You have to make those connections and establish that rapport.
“The CDP has really top-notch instructors. Whatever role you play, you’ve got an expert mentor for your training. They really want you to bring something valuable back to your organization from this.”