Deluge of disaster: Hospital prepares for massive earthquake | SierraSun.com

Deluge of disaster: Hospital prepares for massive earthquake

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunSection chiefs and command staff sit down for an objectives briefing at the mock Incident Command Center inside the Tahoe Forest Hospital Thursday. The exercise was part of a Tahoe Basin wide earthquake drill that tested agencies ability to react to catastrophic seismic events.

Space filled up fast in the Tahoe Forest Health System as a flood of patients were rushed to the emergency room following Thursday’s massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Two floors above the chaos, the Incident Command Center’s planning, logistics, finance, and medical specialists gathered around a table to delegate responsibilities down a web of command.

As local firefighters, paramedics, and available hospital employees frantically tended to more than 60 patients, the ER began looking like an elaborate blockbuster production.

Luckily the whole thing was an act.

Part of the Golden Guardian statewide disaster preparedness program, the crowd of bloodied patients were designed to test how the hospital reacts to a massive catastrophe, what they call a multiple casualty incident.

Though the moulage and acting didn’t exactly meet Hollywood standards, emergency professionals were presented with real challenges while caring for the “disaster victims.”

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Registered Nurse Jennifer Ingalls was the first in line at the ER. While manning a chalkboard at the entrance doors she hurried to get patient information as a line of groaning victims grew behind her.

“I’ve got two delays and nowhere to put them,” she yelled, flipping the chalkboard over to see if room had opened.

As patients kept rolling in, Ingalls quickly assigned treatment priority based on the triage tags around their necks.

Tags labeled “Immediate” meant injuries were life threatening and had to be moved quickly to the ER. “Delayed” tags meant injuries were severe but not life threatening ” they could wait. “Minor” tags received lowest priority and most of them were moved to waiting rooms while available staff attended to their minor lacerations and broken bones.

Nurses and doctors had to improvise as hospital resources were quickly used, substituting desk chairs as wheelchairs and waiting rooms for treatment areas.

Trish Harvey, director of the Casualty Care Unit, coordinated the confusion.

“We’re opening departments in the hospital and trying to set up the old middle school to take in minors,” she said.

The disaster drill was a unique experience for everyone as it was the first full-day exercise put on by the hospital. Previous drills had only lasted a few hours.

Patient registrar Robert Stokich and ER nurse Teresa Wik evaluated how staff managed the rapid influx of patients.

“For this drill we’ve concentrated on registration and how it flows with the computer system,” said Wik, adding, “We were able worked a program into the computer to run the drill in real time and not just assume we can get information entered in.”

“Every drill builds on the last one,” said Stokich. “A lot of times what’s planned doesn’t work as well in real life.”

Every aspect of the hospital was tested on Thursday right down to the registration desk being inundated with calls from “hysterical mothers” looking for their children.

“We have great systems on paper and today’s drill is an opportunity to test them,” said Bev Brink, Director of the Emergency Department, “Chuck Thomas and Tami Prior deserve praise for designing the drill with Homeland Security.”

Special thanks were also extended throughout the drill to the “victims” whose dramatic performances kept staff on their toes.

Local volunteers, emergency medical technician students, and the Youth in Action program students helped ham it up throughout the day.