San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC), in collaboration with the VA’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM, Region IX) and Office of Information and Technology (OI&T, Region 1, EP Division), U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), participated together--for the first time ever--in a training and emergency response exercise at NASA’s Moffett Airfield on June 30. Moffett Field is a joint civilian-military airport located near the south end of San Francisco Bay, northwest of San Jose.
“Under the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), our Medical Center is the designated Federal Coordinating Center (FCC) for the Bay Area,” said SFVAMC’s Assistant Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Brynn Cole. “As such, we must be prepared to send a patient reception team (PRT) to Moffett Airfield or San Francisco International Airport to receive, triage, and arrange transportation to participating area hospitals for patients who have been evacuated.”
The morning started with registration and a briefing. Participants then received essential training provided by HHS in the Joint Patient and Tracking System (JPATS). They were also trained in patient reception, litter bearing, safety, moulage, patient tracking, dual-use vehicle set-up and breakdown, and communications capabilities.
“The reaction from staff involved in the training is very positive. This is the sort of training necessary to be effective during a disaster or emergency,” said SFVAMC’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Joe Johnson.
Randall Hunter, deputy logistics chief and JPATS team leader for the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) CA-6 of HHS, led training on the Disaster Medical Information System (DMIS). “The DMIS network has three parts to it,” he said, “electronic medical records; the JPATS, and the health information repository.” Hunter explained how each patient is given a wristband with assigned barcode, which enables the patient to be tracked and medical records shared by sending and receiving facilities. DMIS can track how much medical equipment and medicine is being used, where a patient is in transport, and whether a patient is accompanied by family members and/or pets. “This system is designed to track a patient from the first time they get a wrist band to their discharge from the hospital, so that we don’t have a Katrina fiasco again,” said Hunter.
After training and lunch the PRT members began the functional exercise of receiving patients (superbly portrayed by volunteers from the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps), evaluating them, tracking them, and loading them onto a new dual-use vehicle.
“The scenario is a catastrophic event, like an earthquake in Los Angeles,” said San Francisco VA FCC Area Emergency Manager and Bay Area FCC Incident Commander Miryam Ramos. “They need to evacuate the patients because area hospitals are overstressed. So planes will arrive here and our exercise is to go into the aircraft, safely remove the patients on the litters, bring them off the aircraft onto dual use vehicles (DUVs).”
Federal partners participating in this joint exercise were: The VA Office of Emergency Management, Region 9; NASA Ames Research Center; VA Office of Information and Techology, Region 1 EP Division; SFVAMC Police Department; VA Palo Alto Health Care System; VA Northern Health Care System; US Naval Sea Cadet Corps, California DMAT 6 (part of HHS); 129th Rescue Wing; and California Air National Guard. Local partners included: San Francisco Dept of Public Health; Rural Metro Ambulance (provided for free as community service); and California Pacific Medical Center.
“The 2012 National Disaster Medical System SFVAMC Federal Coordinating Center exercise was a great success,” said Ramos. “SFVAMC probably has the strongest team I’ve seen. Their leadership has a strong commitment to the program. Joe (Johnson) deals with adversity very calmly, which is good because we have a lot of issues getting equipment up and running. And Brynn (Cole) has very creative ideas—she helped me with planning this exercise—and she’s very strong administratively, with policies and plans.”
“NASA has been very generous with their space, their security, and any base operations questions we’ve had. HHS and DMAT California 6 provided excellent training,” said Ramos.”These guys gave up their Saturday to come out and teach us how to play.”