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Disaster planning and emergency preparedness

Emergency preparedness is increasingly important in health care. In line with the NIH commitment to preparedness for, and effective responses to, bioterrorism and other public health emergencies, in 2004 the Clinical Center revised its emergency preparedness plan and developed a streamlined response template. It also formed a partnership with the National Naval Medical Center and Suburban Hospital, focusing on the relative and complementary expertise and resources of the three neighboring institutions. Dr. Gallin leads the NIH in this partnership between two government agencies and a private-sector hospital.

On October 21, the Clinical Center participated in a joint drill with its two partners, to test the partnership’s communications, transportation, and surge capacity. As part of the exercise, some participants — portraying seriously injured patients, replete with makeup for mock injuries — were transferred from NNMC across the NIH campus to Suburban Hospital, which lies just west of NIH across Old Georgetown Road. So that Suburban could accept the influx of “patients” from NNMC, participants portraying stable patients were transferred from Suburban to the Clinical Center. A fleet of fire emergency vehicles from NIH; NNMC; Montgomery County; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock; Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and Naval District Washington took part, as obstacles such as simulated car accidents were cleared and emergency vehicles navigated the necessary routes of access. To launch the event, more than 40 distinguished guests from the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and other local, state and federal emergency management agencies attended a press conference.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) supports this partnership. The office of the Secretary provided support by contributing a contingency hospital with the supplies and infrastructure needed to provide surge capacity for up to 250 patients in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. These efforts capitalize on the complementary strengths that are essential to an effective regional response to man-made or natural disasters in the Washington metropolitan area. Dr. Gallin represents the NIH in emergency preparedness planning for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Supporting disaster relief in Florida Dr. Gallin also coordinated NIH’s staff mobilization for disaster relief during the 2004 Florida hurricane season. Hurricane Frances came ashore near Stuart, Florida, on Saturday, September 4, followed soon by hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne, disrupting lives and inflicting massive damage. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona activated the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service in what might have been the “largest disaster response ever.” Teams from different agencies and commands, who had not worked together before, came together from all over the country to provide disaster relief and services. PHS officers worked with Red Cross volunteers and with staff from the HHS Secretary’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), Homeland Security, DOD, FEMA, Veterans Affairs, the Public Health Service, and the USDA Forest Service.

PHS officers working with FEMA trained thousands of volunteers to help out in Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina, and many NIH nurses, research nurses, and nurse practitioners traveled south to help out.

“As a civilian in wartime, the best thing you can hear is, ‘We are the Marines, and we are here to help,’ ” said Dr. Andrew Daigle, one of the senior emergency room physicians at Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Hospital. “Now I have learned that after a disaster the best thing you can hear is, ‘We’re the United States Public Health Service, and we’re here to help.’ ”

Emergency respose drill
Preparing for emergencies. As part of an emergency response drill conducted jointly by three local partners, some participants —portraying seriously injured patients — were transferred from the National Naval Medical Center across the NIH campus to Suburban Hospital. So that Suburban could accept the influx of “patients” from the Naval Center, participants portraying stable patients were transferred from Suburban to the Clinical Center.
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