January 31, 2003

Staff gears up to battle terrorism

Featured Image

Donning hazardous materials suits to protect themselves from possible hazards, ED faculty and staff prepare to decontaminate a "patient" outside the ED in the specially designed decon shower.

Staff gears up to battle terrorism

Class participants learn how to "suit up" in the specially designed hazardous materials suits. All openings have to be taped to keep out any decontamination that could injure the responder.

Class participants learn how to "suit up" in the specially designed hazardous materials suits. All openings have to be taped to keep out any decontamination that could injure the responder.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Emergency Department faculty and staff have been donning respirators and hazardous materials response suits as part of an eight-hour training class designed to protect and prepare them to handle patients who could present from a biological, radiation or chemical accident or act of terrorism.

“Hazardous materials incidents can originate from an industrial accident, transportation accident, or from a terrorist event,” explained Susan Johnson, Hospital/Clinic Safety Program Manager for Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety (VEHS). “Prompt, safe and effective decontamination procedures are essential to protect both the victims and the responders.”

VEHS is conducting and sponsoring the training classes.

Because the ED staff is on the front line of receiving patients, it’s important for patients to be stopped and decontaminated before allowing them to enter the hospital. If that does not happen, a substance could contaminate the entire hospital.

The training has been broken down into two parts and is equivalent to the hazardous materials operations-level responder training as designated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Session one covers information about hazardous materials, personal protection equipment and decontamination procedures. Session two requires participants to dress in level C protective suits and respirators and decontaminate a simulated patient in the VUMC decontamination area outside the ED.

VEHS does provide a campus-wide hazardous materials response team and has worked with ED faculty and staff during mass casualty drills involving hazardous materials.

“However, it is important for some of the ED staff to be trained to use the personal protective equipment appropriate for these events. The ED staff are here 24/7 — VEHS is not,” Johnson said. “And there will always be a need for clinical staff in the hot-zone triage for emergency care.”

This isn’t the only training that has been conducted as efforts to prepare for possible terrorist attacks escalate. Faculty and staff have also undergone training on emergency response to terrorism, identification of biological materials, incident command and other emergencies.

“I would like to single out the efforts of Pam Hoffner, Susan Johnson and Dr. Robin Hemphill for assisting in training, education and implementation of these programs in the ED and throughout the hospital,” said Dr. Ian Jones, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine.

ED Nurse Manager Donna Mason said the training was part of a continuing learning environment that added to a wide array of background and resources available in the ED.

“Emergency Department staff and physicians must know multiple areas and deal with issues such as overcrowding, diversion of patients and long waits,” she said. “And we’re now learning to confront other national issues such as working knowledge of bioterrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I am proud that our department will serve as an integral component of the disaster preparedness group that will assist others in times of national disaster.”