Harrison learns from mass casualty drill, decontamination exercise

Karine Braunger reads off a decontaminated patient’s information to Sabrina St. Laurent (left) and Stephanie Stoddard before he could be admitted last Thursday to the emergency department at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Karine Braunger reads off a decontaminated patient’s information to Sabrina St. Laurent (left) and Stephanie Stoddard before he could be admitted last Thursday to the emergency department at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

If a terrorist cell in Clallam County gets hold of sarin nerve gas and spreads the liquid chemical using a crop dusting plane, Harrison Medical Center will be ready to respond.

Harrison took part in a chemical attack disaster drill Thursday, May 18, joining hospitals, emergency management and public health agencies throughout Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties.

According to the scenario, a crop duster flies over Port Angeles, Port Townsened, along Route 104, the Hood Canal bridge, Poulsbo and Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. Harrison is then asked to care for some of the patients from the northern part of Kitsap where medical personnel are overwhelmed with mass casualties.

At the Bremerton campus, 20 volunteers posing as patients arrived Thursday afternoon and were decontaminated in tents set up outside the emergency department.

“In Silverdale we are pretending that EMS had decon-ed all the people in the field and they’ll simply be triaged and treated,” said Laura Jull, Harrison’s emergency preparedness coordinator, on Wednesday before the drill.

Harrison-Silverdale received 10 patients, who trickled in for about two-and-a-half hours.

The first part of the emergency drill was a communications test. Only one glitch was discovered, Jull said. The satellite phone at Harrison-Silverdale was down. Already repairing that emergency phone connection, Harrison also continues to assess its performance on the second part of the drill — the decontamination and treatment of patients from the chemical attack.

At the Bremerton campus, housekeeping staff set up decontamination tents and emergency and medical imaging technicians suited up to perform the decontaminations. Medical personnel concentrated on triage for the victims after the decon process, while security officers directed all patient and staff traffic in the midst of the busy drill.

“One of the lessons learned here is we need to train more of our security people in decontamination procedures and suit them up as well to protect them,” Jull said.

Harrison was able to quickly discharge patients to the care of nursing homes and other facilities, freeing up beds “which is critical when you have mass casualties,” Jull added.

Though most similar exercises involve primarily the emergency staff, Thursday’s mass casualty drill spread to all areas of the medical center.

“Certainly if you have a real life disaster we’d have the whole hospital involved,” said Mary Flick, Harrison’s trauma services coordinator. “And we’re trying to have a realistic (drill).”

Several nurses from different departments in the hospital were pooled and waited in a hallway by the emergency department in Silverdale.

“In the event of a real thing we’d be coming down to help,” said Linda Drew, a nurse from the Silverdale’s labor and delivery department.

Drew quickly found her way through the emergency department to help AmeriCorps volunteer Victoria Brazitis — playing a 23-year-old female patient named Toni Spring — flush her eye. According to Brazitis’ character scenario, the terrorists’ plane flew low overhead, it sent some bark flying, and a piece jammed into Toni’s eye.

Fellow AmeriCorps volunteer, Tammy Pepi of Bremerton, played a 7-year-old boy named Scott Chandler who had been exposed to sarin and had difficulty breathing and a headache.

“I thought it’d be interesting (to go behind the scenes),” Pepi said about her decision to play a victim in the chemical attack drill. “It’s such a real possibility these days.

“Doing stuff like this also makes you aware of what you can do to prepare,” she added.

“It makes it kind of exciting to see how to do this,” said victim Jean Boyle, of Port Orchard, an Olympic College nursing student. “It’s something we are interested in for future reference. No matter where we work, we might have to deal with this kind of (disaster).”

Harrison’s goal also was to learn from the exercise and plan for the future.

The set up and preparation time for decontamination was faster than average, said Matt Fox, hazardous materials/civilian decontamination instructor with Seattle-based Emergency Response Training Institute.

“Harrison took the extra step of including the entire hospital and that was great to see,” said Fox, who evaluated the medical center’s decontamination process in the drill.

He also took away an idea he said ERTI will now teach to other hospitals in training for disaster decontamination.

In the drill’s aftermath, Jull said Harrison will be re-writing its emergency disaster plan to comply with the National Incident Management System, a post-Sept. 11 Presidential directive. Many staff members’ roles also will be included into the revised plan.

“There’s a lot of work to be done for sure,” Jull said. “But overall we felt that the exercise went well and we’ll be implementing the lessons learned.”

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