New group targets disaster planning

Would you like to improve your disaster plan and obtain needed equipment? A new coalition was formed to help you do just that, with the goal of making sure that all communities are ready for nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism and other disasters. The Partnership for Community Safety: Strengthening America’s Readiness is an alliance of national organizations including the Dallas-based American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). The group plans to advocate for better preparation for EDs in five key areas: communications infrastructure, community-based planning, surge capacity, disease surveillance and reporting, and training.

"This will translate into more resources for hospital EDs, especially for critical education and training about biologic agents. It will also improve the capacity for sudden increases in patient volume, whether from a flu epidemic or from an act of terrorism," says Michael L. Carius, MD, FACEP, current president of ACEP and chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Norwalk (CT) Hospital.

Carius emphasizes that efforts must be coordinated among all the organizations involved in emergency response, at the national, state, and local levels. "The new challenges of bioterrorism will require new approaches," he says. Although most EDs have policies to respond to hazardous materials incidents, these are inadequate for dealing with nearly every biological agent, he adds.

Carius emphasizes that EDs will be the nation’s first responders in a bioterrorism attack, so training staff to quickly recognize and treat biologic agents is essential. "ED managers must provide the leadership in their hospitals for retooling hospital disaster plans," he adds.

Here are key goals of the group:

• Encouraging EDs to collaborate with other first responders.

Time is of the essence, especially when dealing with contagious agents such as smallpox, says Carius. "In our current health care system, which is fragmented and where information is not shared, the challenge to mobilize an effective, large-scale public health response to prevent a public health catastrophe is potentially insurmountable," he says.

Carius notes that EDs around the country already have played a central role in strengthening their communities’ response plans to bioterrorism. He gives the example of Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA, where ED physicians have conducted drills with local public health, fire, and police officials based on a mass casualty incident caused by terrorism. Such drills help identify problems in the system and improve coordination, communication, and response time among all first responders, he says. "This type of community planning needs to be done nationwide," Carius asserts. To achieve this goal, the group is working with first responders to terrorism in several communities. "ACEP would like to see disaster plans in every local community being reviewed, strengthened, and tested in this way," he says.

ED managers should take leadership roles in their communities and hospitals to coordinate collaboration among all first responders, argues Carius. "Work to develop a comprehensive plan connecting the dots between the various roles of the medical, safety, and health responders during a disaster," he says.

• Spotlighting model programs and best practices.

EDs at the grassroots level must provide others with "best practices" that have proven effective in their communities, argues Carius. "Many communities across the country have taken the initiative to be prepared," he says. "Sharing this knowledge will be instrumental in preparing the nation for terrorist attacks." The group will distribute model programs that effectively address acts of terrorism. "This will be helpful to communities as they update their disaster plans to address the new challenges of bioterrorism," says Carius.

He urges ED managers to share their particular knowledge and expertise in disaster medicine. "The partnership will be looking to these medical experts to provide leadership in areas of research and training," he says.

Sources

For more information on the Partnership for Community Safety, contact: Michael L. Carius, MD, FACEP, American College of Emergency Physicians, 2121 K St. NW, Suite 325, Washington, DC 20037. Fax: (202) 728-0617. E-mail: mcarius@acep.org.