September 14, 2001

Vanderbilt prepared for disaster

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Susan Johnson of Environmental Health Services talks on the phone in the VUMC emergency operation center as the national news plays on televisions above. The command center was activated after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Vanderbilt prepared for disaster

Vanderbilt staff filled the command center in reaction to Tuesday’s attack on America.  Vanderbilt was ready to receive patients from the disaster scenes. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Vanderbilt staff filled the command center in reaction to Tuesday’s attack on America. Vanderbilt was ready to receive patients from the disaster scenes. (photo by Dana Johnson)

When the magnitude of Tuesday morning’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon became evident, VUMC officials immediately moved to prepare to aid victims if called upon.

As staff, faculty, students, and others gathered throughout VUMC to follow the unbelievable events unfolding on live television, the Medical Center opened its emergency operation center to coordinate efforts and assess institutional readiness to assist victims of the plane crashes and building destructions in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The institution was officially on Yellow Alert status, indicating a state of preparedness for mass casualty, from shortly after the attacks on Tuesday morning until about 10 a.m. Wednesday, when the Office of Emergency Management notified VUMC that it was unlikely any casualties would be airlifted to the hospital.

Dr. Jeffrey S. Guy, medical director of the Burn Unit, responded to a canvas of the national availability of burn treatment beds (see sidebar article below).

While VUMC stood ready to help, tragically, survivors were so relatively few that local medical facilities in the New York and Washington regions were able to provide care to the injured.

“While we are all so personally moved and offended by these cowardly and despicable acts of terrorism, we must also commit to not letting them interfere with the good work we do at our Medical Center,” said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, in an e-mail Tuesday to staff and faculty. “Therefore, we ask everyone to continue their efforts without interruption, be they in education, research, or patient care.”

Accordingly, classes went on as scheduled in the schools of Medicine and Nursing, and clinic appointments and surgical cases went on as planned. An exception was one specialized vascular surgery that was cancelled after an instrument needed for the procedure was unavailable due to the national grounding of the delivery fleet of Federal Express.

The ER remained open and functioning, and was never on diversion. An assessment of available supplies indicated about a week’s worth of needed medical supplies on hand, even if no deliveries were possible.

Other events at VUMC in the wake of the attack included:

•LifeFlight was out of service for approximately 90 minutes Tuesday morning by FAA order as part of the grounding of all civil aviation. Flights resumed with a tightened security procedure to receive clearance to fly. No flights were missed during the down time, LifeFlight officials said.

•Staff and faculty were updated throughout the events with regular e-mails.

•Pastoral Services conducted times of prayer both Tuesday and Wednesday in the VUH chapel, and a phone bank was established for those in need of counseling.

•VUMC also coordinated with the American Red Cross to help in that agency’s blood donation efforts. Response was so great at the Red Cross offices at 22nd and Charlotte Avenue that staff, faculty, and students were urged to go to that facility, as the Red Cross could not provide enough workers to staff a separate blood drive at VUMC this week.

•A list of approximately 25 physicians who were travelling and stranded as part of the aviation shutdown was compiled, and their work was assigned to others or postponed.

•A list of VUMC staff and faculty who are military personnel was compiled, to assess backup staffing needs in case of a call-up of reserves.