Disaster preparedness is a top concern at the Trauma Center at Frankford Hospitals-Torresdale Campus in Philadelphia, and it has achieved a new level of importance since several members of the ED staff completed training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala.
The CDP’s Noble Training Facility is the nation’s only hospital facility dedicated to training healthcare professionals in disaster preparedness and response. Its goal: to effectively enable responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from real-world incidents such as acts of terrorism and other disasters involving hazardous materials.
Janet Lynch, RN, CEN, and Gail Wilt, RN, ENPC, TNC, CEN, staff nurses at Frankford’s Level 2 trauma center emergency department, participated in the weeklong program in April and are two of 10 employees to undergo training by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They both took the Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) and Hands-On Training with Weapons of Mass Destruction (HOT) courses. Wilt also attended a session on Pandemic Influenza Planning and Preparedness.
Lynch and Wilt learned about the CDP training program from colleagues who had gone through it.
“Having attended numerous in-services, seminars and nursing conferences, I was skeptical that this training would be more substantial than the usual offering,” says Wilt. “However, the caliber of the presenters’ professionalism and dedication, coupled with the material presented, proved to be an exceptionally rewarding experience.”
Realistic training scenarios
The HERT course reviewed the proper protocol for dealing with a mass-casualty event, and included everything from how to dress and work in protective garb to the symptoms and treatment of specific chemical agents. As part of the training, participants worked through a variety of scenarios using lifelike mannequins that weighed as much as real adults.
“They dressed the mannequins as if they had experienced a real explosive blast, complete with wounds and amputated limbs,” Lynch says. “It was about as real as we could do it outside of an actual terrorist attack.”
During the HOT course, Lynch and Wilt received intensive training using real chemical agents. They wore protective suits and respirators and were constantly monitored for exposure, which added a necessary level of realism to the exercise. Antidotes for each agent were readily available, just in case.Janet Lynch, RN, CEN
“I have never achieved an adrenaline rush such as the HOT experience provoked in me,” says Wilt, who is also treasurer of the Philadelphia chapter of the Pennsylvania Emergency Nurses Association. “The simulated casualty experience, complete with lights and sirens, challenged the senses. I was not frightened, because FEMA does an outstanding job with the education and training, but it was still a moment of true clarity.”
The nurses returned to work with a renewed understanding of disaster preparedness and response, and immediately set about making changes at Frankford Torresdale Trauma Center. With the assistance of the security department, they inventoried the facility’s emergency response equipment and supplies, developed guidelines, and prepared manuals and informational posters for coworkers throughout the hospital and its two other campuses.
“We are also in the preliminary stages of staff education, and our nurse manager, Barbara Taubenberger, RN, MSN, CEN, has been instrumental in promoting departmental/hospital awareness of the FEMA educational experience,” Wilt says.
Lynch and Wilt say the experience has made them much more aware of the vulnerable age in which we now live. “I look at people differently now. I’m always watching,” says Lynch. “The training made me much more aware of my surroundings and more aware of smells [which are important in identifying harmful agents]. FEMA actually gives you a smelling test before you take the training, and if you have trouble sensing odors, they won’t let you do it.”
As a result of their experience, Lynch, Wilt and their colleagues have become vocal advocates of the FEMA training, which they call the government’s “best kept secret.”
“We can never be too prepared to handle a pandemic or disaster,” Wilt states. “All nurses, but especially emergency nurses, should seek and obtain any and all available education and training. Not only will it prepare them for a hospital response, but it will enable them to more adequately protect themselves and their families if the unimaginable occurs.”