Mock catastrophe

SC agencies drill for disaster

jmonk@thestate.comApril 17, 2013 

— More than 150 medical, military, local, state and federal government workers took part Wednesday in a long-planned simulation of a mass casualty event where some 100 mock patients were airlifted into the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and then transferred to 14 area hospitals.

“We’ve got a closed-head injury here, and she’s on a ventilator,” paramedic Rick Fritts told his medical team Wednesday morning as they clustered around a “patient” who had arrived with some 40 others after being actually being flown in on an Air Force C-17.

The drill, carried out in a large hangar at the S.C. Aeronautics Commission, used the scenario that thousands of people had been injured at a bombing at a downtown Charlotte stadium. Charlotte-area hospitals had been overwhelmed and were airlifting numerous patients around the South, including to Columbia.

“It’s just very ironic that what just happened in Boston – you have to be ready, and there’s no one operation that can do it by themselves,” said Fort Jackson post commander Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, who noted numerous different agencies were working together under one roof

The “patients” handled Wednesday were not simulated explosion casualties, but rather existing mock patients supposedly in Charlotte-area hospitals who had to be moved to make beds available for more critical blast casualties. Actually, Wednesday’s patients were young Civil Air Patrol cadets from across the state, and the C-17s flew in from Charleston.

At the Columbia airport, “patients” were unloaded onto stretchers from the C-17, taken to the hangar, had their conditions assessed and received emergency treatment, then were transferred to ambulances that took them to hospitals as far away as Florence and Dillon.

Besides medical treatment, computer specialists in the hangar entered “patient” information into a recently-developed national, standardized Internet-accessible computer software program called Joint Patient Assessment Tracking System.

“After Hurricane Katrina, we realized there were thousands of patients unaccounted for, and they needed to have a national level system to track patients,” said Sgt. Maj. Dora Guzman, a U.S. Army reserve soldier, who helped oversee patient tracking on six laptops.

The software also insured that patients were sent to the right hospitals. “You wouldn’t want to send a heart patient to a hospital that doesn’t have that capability,” Guzman said. “Our job is also to make sure we get all these patients back.”

The drill’s overall coordinator was the S.C. Forestry Commission, which like state forestry commissions elsewhere, has used its experience fighting fast-moving wilderness forest fires to develop sophisticated event response processes.

Dr. Chris Lombardozzi, Spartanburg Regional hospital’s emergency room physician, oversaw the transfer of Wednesday’s “patients.”

“Something like this, it’s all about training,” Lombardozzis said. “You do it over and over again, and then, what appears to be chaos, isn’t – it’s a well-oiled, well-practiced machine provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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