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ED staff attend courses on disaster prep, response
Government pays for travel, meals, instruction
Five employees from Redlands (CA) Community Hospital recently obtained training in fundamentals of emergency management at the Center for Domestic Preparedness based in Anniston, AL, operated by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). ED leaders say this valuable training has made them much better prepared for any disasters they might face.
"They prepare us to survive for 72 hours without any assistance," says Steve Demming, RN, the ED manager. "Based on the lessons learned from [Hurricane] Katrina, they realized we have to be self-sufficient for three days before they show up."
While this was Demming's first trip to the center, it was the third for Robert M. Tyson, RN, a nurse liaison in the ED. He took his first class in January 2008. "I was first made aware of it through a local junior college, which was sending paramedics," he recalls. "I tagged along."
He soon realized that the center offered all kinds of classes and that his hospital should take advantage of it. "This was the first time we opened it up to people within the department and the hospital," says Demming.
Best of all, notes Tyson, the entire experience is free of charge. FEMA pays for air fare to Atlanta, and then buses the students to the center. "They put you up in dorm-style rooms, and there's a cafeteria right on site," says Tyson, who took a course in pandemic influenza planning and preparedness during his second trip. "All you have to do is get the time off from the hospital."
This latest course, which lasted a week, covered planning, mitigation, finances, and recovery, and it included tabletop drills during which the students could practice what they had learned. They also showed participants how to conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis, says Demming. "They helped us put together a plan for vulnerabilities we find here, like earthquakes, fire, flood, train crashes, and chemical exposure," he says. For example, he notes, Redlands is located near a busy rail line. "This training enhanced how we can prepare for situations at home," he says.
Tyson says the courses have taught him some valuable lessons. "I think we want to make our preparedness more hospitalwide," he says. "Everyone has to participate."
Demming agrees. "We're going to train more people in our department to be incident-command certified," he says. "This will strengthen the ED."
One of the benefits of the Center for Domestic Preparedness is that you interact and learn from representatives of other EDs, says Demming.
"For example, we are fortunate that in this area we have not had to deal with major disasters like they have in the Midwest and on the East coast," he notes, "but we talked to people from the EDs of a Cedar Rapids hospital that had to be evacuated during a flood, and one in North Carolina that had to 'shelter in place' when hurricanes hit."
Demming says one ED went as long as five weeks without electricity and really had to learn how to run a department in the wake of a disaster. "Listening to them gave us ideas for better preparing ourselves," he says.
The "tough" instructors, Demming continues, also helped the students adjust their mindsets. "They never said 'if' a disaster strikes, they always said 'when,'" he explains. "This underscored the message that when we came back to our facilities we really had to get prepared."
More EDs should attend FEMA classes
Steve Demming, RN, the ED manager at Redlands (CA) Community Hospital, is surprised more EDs aren't taking advantage of the courses offered at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, AL, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He recently received training in fundamentals of emergency management.
"The reality is that a disaster can happen," he says. "While we need to take a really hard look at what we're doing to prepare, unfortunately not many facilities in our area are taking advantage of these programs."
Preparedness is important for more than just ensuring an effective response to disaster, he says. "It also might be a marketing necessity," he says. When a disaster occurs, "the community will look to us, and this could be ‘make or break' in terms of how they perceive us," Demming says.
If a facility rises to the occasion, it will continue as a respected institution, he says. "If it crumbles and falls, it will take a long time to get that respect back," he says.