Planning for the worst

Seemingly near death, a large group of people lay strewn about the lawn across from the Moffitt Cancer Center on Thursday as they took part in a disaster drill focused on educating health professionals in regards to the management of any major natural, biological, chemical or radioactive disaster site. Dr. Steven Morris, project director of Disaster and Bioterrorism Training at the USF College of Nursing, described the goal of the drill as the training of “any allied health professional that’s going to respond to any type of disaster.”

The multiple-disaster drill was part of a weeklong training program designed to help health and emergency officials respond to mass-casualty disasters in a more uniform and efficient manner. Morris pointed out that the drill was a step in the right direction to “set up a training scenario and a pattern of training that’s consistent not only just for our course, but nationwide.”

Morris explained that even in the Tampa Bay region, rescue teams from different areas have different ways of managing disaster sites. “If a fire department from St. Petersburg and a fire department from Tampa respond, they triage differently, they communicate differently and they manage people differently at the scene.”

One objective of the drill is to make sure “We’re all on the same page,” Morris said. “If you get everybody on the same page then the response to the disaster and the way we operate at the disaster scene will be smooth and efficient, which saves more patients and protects more healthcare providers that are responding to the situation.”

The drill itself was as realistic as could be. The Tampa Fire Rescue’s HazMat unit was onsite and participated in the drill along with many other healthcare providers. The drill involved mock explosions and live actors mimicking injured and panicked patients along with mannequins to represent the seriously injured and deceased.

Tampa firefighter Joe Motil suited up in a full HazMat suit for the drill and called it “very applicable” in regard to real-life disaster response. Motil explained how healthcare providers are “that first strong link in the chain” of disaster response.

Morris added that “Florida is well in the top ten of the states best prepared for these types of disasters,” but further stressed the need for a uniform code of response by saying, “we want everybody to buy into this system.”

The disaster-training program that the drill was a part of is endorsed by the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention along with several other medical colleges in the United States. Morris reinforced how necessary and useful disaster training such as this might be for the average graduate with a nursing or medical degree by saying, “The committee in Florida that assesses training for all health programs has already met this year and (has) recommended that by 2007 all programs will be required to have disaster training as part of their curriculum.”