Tenn. hospital practices evacuation protocol

By Adam Crisp
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Hospitals are places where people go after a catastrophe, but what happens when the hospital is a scene of disaster itself?

An evacuation drill at Memorial Hospital on Thursday sought to answer that question. First thing Thursday morning, hospital employees went to work to see how quickly staff and emergency workers could clear a hospital wing of 20 patients after a mock lightning strike caused the building to be unsafe. The process was deemed a success.

Photo Bruce GarnerResponders take part in the drill Thursday.
Photo Bruce Garner
Responders take part in the drill Thursday.

"The main thing we achieved here was that everyone got out and no one got hurt," said Winston Shields, Memorial's emergency management coordinator.

It might be the first such evacuation drill in the nation, officials said.

In the test, 20 nursing students from Chattanooga State Technical Community College posed as cancer patients needing to be evacuated and transferred to other hospitals. Ten of those people were immobile and had to be carried out on ParaSlydes, which are flexible cots that can be slid under a patient, assembled and then used to remove the patient down a hallway and into a stairwell.

And though there are few benchmarks to which to compare it, drill organizers said the operation went according to plan, though it did take nearly an hour to get all the patients out of the hospital and into ambulances.

"We only brought eight individuals today, and in reality we'd bring as many as 120 if it's necessary," Chattanooga Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Adams said. "Four people were basically working to bring those people down. If you added another 30 people to that, it would be much faster."

Emergency crews held back on the manpower during the exercise so as not to short-staff fire halls and ambulance workers. Chattanooga firefighters used an emergency basket to lower one firefighter as a training exercise.

"We don't really look at these things as whether they were successful, but rather what can we learn from this," Hamilton County Emergency Service Chief Ken Wilkerson said. "This is a good test of the working relationships."

The drill continued after the initial evacuation from Memorial. Patients from that facility were transferred to Memorial North Park and Parkridge East hospitals.

Officials from the emergency services agencies and the hospitals will gather after the drill and discuss deficiencies.

"We're grateful the hospitals are taking a proactive instead a reactive approach," Chief Adams said. "We were glad to bring our people to participate in the program."

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