By Ms. Maria Yager (Army Medicine)February 27, 2018
Officials from key organizations on Fort Campbell, including Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, gathered at Shaw Physical Fitness Facility, Feb. 21, for an exercise to test the installation's response capabilities to a disaster.
"We're conducting an installation emergency shelter exercise where we've stood up a shelter to house displaced residents. We're getting all the responsible agencies together to make sure we are prepared and we're validating our standard operating procedures in case the shelter ever needs to be activated," said Capt. Toby Neal, commander of 1st Lt. J. Robert Kalsu Replacement Company, and emergency shelter manager. For the exercise, representatives set up processing stations to check-in evacuees for tracking, conducted individual needs-assessments, provided sleeping accommodations, meals, medical services and general support, just as they would in a real emergency. "I'm impressed and pleased at how well everyone is coming together. Everybody knows their roles very well and we're working through the SOPs and orders to identify any oversights we might have missed, but overall it's looking pretty good," said Neal.
Blanchfield has significant responsibilities in the event one of the installation's shelters is activated. The drill allowed the hospital's emergency manager to evaluate the BACH Team's capabilities. The hospital's environmental health team is responsible to ensure the shelter is habitable for evacuees. Environmental health technicians checked ventilation, sanitation and other habitability issues and evaluated any environmental health risks that could occur when 400 people must eat, sleep, and shower in an emergency shelter.
A primary care medical team is assigned to the shelter and can help evacuees get refills for required medications like insulin, asthma inhalers and auto-injectors for allergic reactions that could be left behind or lost in the event of an emergency evacuation. This exercise allowed the hospital to test its ability to remotely access patient medical information over a secure network, verify prescriptions and order refills to the shelter for evacuees. The team can also treat minor medical ailments and arrange transfer to a medical facility for treatment of more serious injuries or conditions they may discover.
The exercise included 43 Soldiers in civilian attire who served as role players presenting with a variety of medical and personal conditions or concerns that tested the shelter staff's ability to respond to situations that could arise during an actual activation.
During the exercise, the medical team was presented a role player pretending to be a pregnant evacuee complaining of abdominal pain. This role player tested the shelter staff's ability to recognize a possible medical emergency and connect the evacuee with the necessary medical care. In this situation, the shelter medical team transferred the patient to the hospital. In another scenario, the medical team lost internet connectivity with the hospital and had to determine alternative methods to securely document and exchange patient health information while safeguarding patient privacy.
"In our section, everything seems to be going well. We've been able to deal with some of the minor issues that we have. Of course, it's always a learning experience and everything can be improved upon," said Maj. Keith Garcia, a primary care provider from Blanchfield, who is part of the designated medical team that reports to the shelter during activation. The hospital also has a behavioral health team assigned to the shelter due to the inherent stress that individuals may experience following a disaster where an evacuee may have lost loved ones, their home and personal belongings.
Overall officials said they were pleased with the exercise and found some good takeaways to incorporate into future plans.
"Everybody develops SOPs on paper but you've got to verify what's in there. It can be written down, but until somebody comes out and tries to put it into action, that's when things come to light. So these exercises help get things worked out," said Rich Vater, Blanchfield's emergency manager who worked the exercise alongside his installation counterpart. One item the team discovered missing was kitty litter. Evacuation shelter contingency plans include housing evacuee's pets. This was the first year the post veterinary clinic participated in the exercise and when the veterinary section stood-up its pre-positioned kennel, kitty litter was something no one accounted for.
"We have already learned how we'll run our process to check in animals and verify if they're in our system. This has been a good opportunity to check our flow and how we'll get evacuees with pets registered and identify responsibilities for caring for pets in the shelter," said Capt. Sarah Gregory, Fort Campbell Veterinary Center, officer in charge. Because supplies are limited Gregory recommended that pet owners bring their own animal crate or carrier whenever possible. "We only have about 20 of these kennels, so we are encouraging owners who have a kennel to bring it with them if they can," said Gregory.
Fort Campbell has four designated shelters pre-equipped with cots and related supplies that can be set up to temporarily accommodate Soldiers and their families in the event of an emergency. Some scenarios that would require an emergency shelter on post would be a large scale power outage where an entire housing area would be without power for an extended period of time or a natural disaster like a wildfire, flood or a tornado that damaged a large number of homes and displaced residents.
"We choose our shelters based on open floor spaces, shower and restroom facilities, easy accessibility for mobility concerns. Really, our physical fitness facilities are the best locations for that," said Jay Fangman, Fort Campbell's emergency manager. "They are spread out across post -- that way if you have a power outage in one section of the post, hopefully, the other section still has power."
Fangman said the installation picks diverse facilities in different locations for optimal flexibility. He and Vater also study lessons learned from other installations that have had to activate their emergency shelters including Fort Carson, Colorado, which had to house Soldiers, families and pets after threatening wildfires hit the community, and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma whose families were impacted when a tornado touched down three miles from the base and destroyed their homes.
"It's good to prepare. I think it's been a very successful exercise. We've had good turn-out. All the required organizations showed up and tested their equipment to ensure they have everything they need. Everybody seems to know what they are doing and what their roles are. In my eyes, it's been very successful," said Fangman.