Talk about timing. Just 10 days after the Boston massacre, when nerves were made raw once again, anyone passing by North Shore-LIJ Medical Center in Lake Success, LI might have gotten the scare of a lifetime, as seas of hooded alien-like figures in bright yellow suits invaded one of the hospital’s parking lots.
Not to worry. It was all part of a simulated exercise on healthcare emergency management the hospital presented in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Center for Domestic Preparedness.
North Shore-LIJ said it is the nation’s first nongovernmental organization to provide emergency response training with FEMA.
With the most recent domestic terrorist attack so fresh in everyone’s minds, the staged event, which had been scheduled long before Boston, took on an elevated sense of urgency.
A group of about 20 nurses, EMS workers, New York City firefighters, FEMA personnel and students participated in the mass casualty exercises, using live actors and mannequins as the “victims.”
The emergency management staff of North Shore-LIJ and FEMA personnel conducted the hands-on drill that included practical education on topics ranging from triage to decontamination and cleanup. In the scenario, some of the “victims” were survivors of an improvised explosive device. Others had to deal with the aftermath of chemical warfare, such as choking, blisters or the effects of nerve agents.
The students got practice in how to triage their patients, lead them into decontamination areas and clean the victims to remove contaminants.
With some donning their breathe-easy machines, no easy feat in itself, the participants were assigned various roles: safety officer, logistics officer, treatment, hazmat team leader.
The physical and psychological demands of wearing personal protective equipment appeared to challenge many of the participants.
“The suits are hot,” said Tara Brown, a safety specialist at the hospital, for whom the demonstration was the culmination of an intensive three-day course with the CDP. “It definitely prepares you.”
Another student in the program, Victor Poon, a safety associate for the hospital’s medical research facility, said, “It’s good hands-on training,” adding, “You need a level of fitness” to participate.
Henry Pfister, who normally works as a paramedic in the emergency room, admitted, “Your mindset has to be able to handle it, the stress of the whole situation.” In addition to having to deal with the heat, anyone wearing the class C protective equipment suits also faces the “closed-in factor,” he said.
Although the demonstration might have seem well-timed or ill-timed, depending on one’s view, it was actually in the planning for two years. FEMA training specialist Clayton Calkins, based in Alabama, explained that employees of North Shore-LIJ had traveled down south for training and wanted to be certified to teach the course themselves.
He hopes the training will spread throughout healthcare systems across the country.
“Preparedness is the number one goal,” he said.
During the drill, Scott Strauss, corporate director for protective services at North Shore-LIJ, said, “It’s going great. A couple of things we need to tweak. We need more manpower on the staffing level.
“If it went 100 percent, we wouldn’t be happy. We need things to happen so people begin to think on their feet. The students are learning. We’re learning. We’re looking to learn.”
Strauss said the plan is to conduct similar training drills at least twice a year and get more people interested in taking courses in emergency response.
“The more people who get training in this, the better the community,” he said. “I’d like to see this program happen throughout the country.
“It’s good to let the community know we’re doing everything we can to protect them. Our families live here, too.”