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November 20, 2011

Calif. hospitals take emergency training seriously

By Sarah Rohrs
Vallejo Times Herald

VALLEJO, Calif. — Christopher Duplantis was swimming in a local pool when a wave of nausea washed over him and he felt like his face was on fire. Fearing for his health, he went straight to the Sutter Solano Medical Center emergency room.

But, thankfully, Duplantis' injuries were staged and he was not injured. The Solano Community College student from Vallejo was one of dozens of volunteers to take part in statewide medical surge exercise.

Aimed at helping local emergency medical services staff prepare for real disasters, the exercise highlighted strengths and shortfalls that facilities can address to be better prepared for the real thing, officials said.

In Vallejo, both Sutter Solano and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center participated.

"Every time we do this, it's an opportunity for us to capitalize on what we do well and what we can improve. It's always a learning experience," said Tracy Geddis, Sutter Solano assistant administrator who served as the drill's incident commander.

This year's mock scenario involved evacuation of NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield following the introduction of the highly toxic chemical Ricin into the water supplies.

Sutter Solano Emergency Department Manager Trace Falk said as part of the exercise, officials were told the chemical was deliberately added to the water supply and was possibly an act of terrorism.

Actors playing NorthBay Medical Center patients were taken to hospitals throughout the county as part of the exercise.

Meanwhile, some actors, such as Duplantis, played regular citizens impacted by the tainted water.

At both Sutter Solano and Kaiser, nurses, doctors and others examined patients as they came in on ambulances and buses. They then took them to mock emergency rooms where they got treated.

At Kaiser, patients were immediately admitted.

Travis Air Force Base personnel were on hand at both Vallejo hospitals to observe and take note of staff responses.

After participating in numerous drills over the years, Geddis said hospital staff have learned much about what they can do to more effectively respond to emergencies.

For instance, after last year's drill, Geddis said she streamlined her command center in an effort to improve communication.

Her new process also limited the number people running in and out with updates and other information.

Near the end of the seven-hour drill, Solano County Emergency Medical System Administrator Ted Selby said he felt the exercise had gone well.

Both hospital and county staff will review the response and establish work plans for areas which may need improvement, Selby said.

Copyright 2011 The Times-Herald

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