If a disaster strikes Alexandria or the Northern Virginia region, whether it be natural or man made, Inova Alexandria Hospital (IAH) is prepared to deal with it instantaneously. That was the message last Thursday during a tour highlighting the hospital's emergency preparedness capabilities and facilities.
"Everything is ready to go at the flick of a switch. I can have this command center up and running in two minutes flat," said Greg Brison, director, Emergency Management, IAH.
Centralized in a closet in the hospital's Board room are all the technological tools necessary to allow all first responders to communicate with one another and the hospital in the event of a major disaster on the scale of 9-11, according to Brison. In those two closets is an 800 megahertz radio hooked up to all 18 hospital throughout Northern Virginia.
"There is also an Internet based system that allows all first responders, fire, police and emergency medical personnel, to communicate with one another and us at command central. This Board room will become Command Center in the event of an emergency," Brison said.
In addition to the technology in those closets are binders filed with management instructions and details for every element of any emergency relief operation. Each binder and the materials within it are color coded to prevent misinterpretation of instructions and procedures from one discipline to another, according to Brison.
"During 9-11 there was a sea of white paper all over this Board table. That can definitely cause confusion and the potential for mistakes in a critical situation. Now if there is a piece of yellow paper we know that applies to logistics, pink to supplies, etc.," he explained.
Binders are titled according to their area of materials: Operations is patient based; Planning deals with the manpower pool; Logistics pertains to supplies; and so on.
THERE IS ONE BINDER that speaks to the very essence of Inova Alexandria Hospital as a "community hospital." Labeled
"Neighborhood Manpower Pool," it applies to the Seminary Hills area in the immediate vicinity of the hospital located at 4320 Seminary Road.
"Neighbors have volunteered, been trained and given identification badges to fill in as hospital staff if needed before the regular hospital staff arrives in the event of a disaster situation. These people have also agreed to open their homes to house hospital staff should they be required to serve for long periods without going home," Brison said.
A printer and fax machine are part of the technology complement of the command center to receive all incoming data. A separate radio enables command center personnel to talk to police and fire personnel on their frequency. And, laptop computers duplicate all information contained within the binders.
CNN and other monitors are not only able to scan the room but also the disaster scene so that Brison and other command center personnel have a first hand view of what's happening on site. "All of this reduces the stress level at command center by 80 percent," he said.
"WE'VE GOTTEN a lot of special grants to develop this," said Kenneth Kozloff, administrator, IAH, and vice president, Inova Health system, in giving Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille a special tour of the hospital emergency preparedness capabilities that included the Emergency Department's new triage design and facilities.
"By making one phone call I can get 150 people here immediately in the event of a major disaster. Our people wear their pagers 24/7. We have brought other hospital personnel from throughout the region here to see what we have accomplished," Kozloff told Euille.
In the newly renovated Emergency Department there is a special waiting room and bedside registration. "Our goal is to get ER patients out of the waiting area to the area where the care is provided. We call it ‘pulling patients’ — pulling them from the waiting area to the treatment area," Kozloff said.
"This whole emergency care or triage area is designed to get patients to care as soon as possible," said Dr. Martin Brown, medical director, IAH Emergency Department.
"There is now a small private waiting room where patients can wait for lab results and other information. Patients no longer have to be moved from place to place," Brown explained.
"This is a real improvement. I can remember going from area to area years ago for what I thought was broken arm and then was told everything was all right," Euille stated.
"I appreciate the opportunity to turn this vastly improved facility and see the progress that's been made within the Emergency Department. I am very impressed with the hospital's emergency preparedness and with the cooperation between the hospital the city and all the other hospitals," Euille said.
"We have worked very hard to get people to the right place in the least amount of time," Brown said. The entire Emergency Department is under the control of a central data area, which Brown referred to as "our control tower. From here we know the status of every patient and their treatment."
IN ANY DISASTER situation one of the most critical elements is supply. Not only getting supplies and equipment to those dealing with the situation but also having those supplies readily available. Both of these contingencies have been thoroughly worked out by Brison.
"We don't have to be dependent on any supply restocking for 48 hours thanks to our special warehouse," he said. "Usually, there is less than one day's supplies available in a disaster situation prior to resupply."
That so-called "warehouse" is located within a heavily secured and monitored area of Inova Alexandria Hospital with only three people having access. "We are prepared to handle a surge of 127 patients in 30 minutes," Brison said.
Stored in the "warehouse" are medical supplies, protective clothing, water, 107 folding beds, military litters, rows of orange color rubber boots, and a 50 by 20 triage tent to be set up to handle overflow incoming disaster victims. All in all, approximately $2 million worth of emergency preparedness equipment and gear is displayed in this top security area.
One of the most state-of-the-art pieces of equipment in the warehouse is the new $13,000 portable, walk-through, geiger counter used to determine if incoming personnel are radioactive contaminated or clean. "Prior to this we had to have people strip and be checked with a hand held geiger counter. Now they can just walk through and we can know the results instantaneously," Brison explained.
But, its not all high tech. Good old American ingenuity was also on display. Normally, dismantling a triage tent dressed in protective clothing is a very hot and exhausting job, according to Brison.
"So I took this dismantling bar home and adapted it to fit into my three quarter inch, battery powered drill. Now all that someone has to do is pull the drill trigger and the dismantling hook goes to work. It's a lot faster and not nearly as exhausting as doing it hand in those non-breathing decontamination suits," he said.
Either high tech or low tech, the bottom line is that both
Alexandria citizens and the residents of Northern Virginia are far better prepared for disaster incident either from mother nature or mankind than they were on the fateful day in 2001. And, that fact will only continue to improve as IAH's Project 2010 evolves.