Drop, Cover, Hold, Triage and Treatment at Naval Hospital Bremerton

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Story Number: NNS140807-01Release Date: 8/7/2014 6:21:00 AM

By Douglas H. Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs Office

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Naval Hospital Bremerton held a mass casualty and earthquake exercise Aug. 5 to test command-wide responding capabilities in handling overlapping emergencies.

The exercise, dubbed Operation Fireball, was also augmented for the first time with mutual cooperation from Naval Base Kitsap, Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Services, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and City of Bremerton Fire Department.

According to Terry Lerma, NHB emergency preparedness coordinator, the exercise provided valuable learning experience for the hospital in coordinating, communicating and working with external organizations.

"NHB gained insight from all the fire departments on what they could realistically reach with their ladder trucks to rescue a patient had this been a 'real-world' earthquake scenario. Operation Fireball also provided the opportunity to incorporate the Regional Dispatch Center at (Naval Base Kitsap) Bangor working with Central Communications for radio communications with the different fire departments," said Lerma.

NHB staff members focused on handling the realistic scenario that involved multiple casualties in need of immediate medical assistance due to the command being 'struck' by an impactful shallow quake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale.

The exercise was reminiscent of the Nisqually 6.8 earthquake of 2001 that gave NHB staff a forewarning of what it was like to actually experience a sizable seismic shaking, as the epicenter was just 50 miles south of Bremerton.

Because of that past experience and where the command is situated, NHB completed a unique seismic retrofit project in 2007 to vastly improve the structural ability of the facility to withstand a large earthquake.

Along with the seismic retrofit, Lerma notes that NHB has continued to hold mass casualty drills in conjunction with an earthquake scenario because when a quake happens, it can impact everything and everyone in the area.

"It's our duty to be ready and be prepared for any contingency. The overall objective driving the scenario was to see if it could and would 'break' the Emergency Operations Plan. By 'breaking' the plan, we find out those opportunities for improvement whether it's by revising or changing our response plan, adjusting or improving our training to prepare for these events. We also learn what our opportunities to improve are by challenging and checking to see if we have the right people doing the right job in the right place at the right time and if there are equipment or supplies needed, such as additional shelter tents needed for evacuated patients/staff, or other medical equipment needed in our response bags," explained Lerma.

The exercise commenced by announcing, "This is a drill, earthquake, earthquake...all hands drop, cover and hold." After the 'all clear' was sounded, all staff were required to implement their disaster plans by initially checking their immediate surroundings, checking on co-workers, patients, visitors and then follow their assignments if a mass casualty scenario is announced.

Some of the main objectives of the mass casualty exercise were to rapidly test and evaluate damage assessment to the facility itself including assist patients, visitors and staff with injuries, track patients through treatment areas and assess for 72 hours, if necessary.

Doctors, nurses, hospital corpsmen and support staff were also tested and evaluated on their ability to set up, activate, triage and transport ambulatory and non-ambulatory trauma patients to the correct treatment areas, as well as provide medical care for a variety of injuries atypical to an earthquake, such as abrasions, lacerations and contusions.

The adjoining wing to the main facility was 'deemed' to be structurally unsafe and had to be evacuated. The external assistance from local fire departments provided the necessary support in reaching 'patients' on higher levels.

"Operation Fireball provided the fire departments an exercise environment with a real world medical treatment facility challenge along with simultaneously operating four ladder trucks to effect rescue of four separate 'patients' from above floors. South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the other fire departments had the opportunity in a controlled exercise real-time environment to utilize all the ladder truck rescue skills that are practiced on a regular basis. Plus, each fire department had the opportunity to see, close up, the actual naval hospital structure internally and externally, in order to size up and evaluate the best method by which to employ their ladder trucks," said Lerma.

Holding an exercise like Operation Fireball helps NHB maintain the high standard of readiness for responding to serious conditions such as disaster, weather and mass casualty situations.

The exercise did not impact patient flow or interrupt service to any eligible beneficiary seeking medical and health services at the facility.

For more news from Naval Hospital Bremerton, visit www.navy.mil/local/nhb/.

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