In 2017 Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston region causing catastrophic flooding, the evacuation of nearly 780,000 Texans, and submerging nearly 80,000 homes, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Over 31,000 federal employees responded to the disaster, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense and others. Also responding to such emergencies is the National Disaster Medical System, a federally coordinated system that enhances the nation's medical response capability.
"We're linked to an active duty mission," said Lt. Col. Mark Remy, NDMS administration chief, Federal Coordinating Center (FCC) El Paso. "We're always leaning forward in the saddle. If that hurricane hits, we're going to activate."
Remy, along with a handful of other Soldiers, are U.S. Army Reserve-component Soldiers currently assigned to the NDMS mission as Individual Mobilization Augments (IMA) conducting annual refreshers on patient reception procedures in case of an emergency.
"This is a very important exercise with a real-world situation we are dealing with," said Remy. "We're testing the front end and the back end of these scenarios, including when the patient gets to a hospital how the hospital is getting paid and how are we going to get patients home."
The overall purpose of the NDMS is to establish a unified medical response to assist state and local authorities with medical efforts during disasters. Additionally, NDMS is charged with supporting the DOD in response to mass casualties during conventional conflicts.
Recently the FCC conducted a patient reception and processing exercise at a secondary location to test the capabilities and identify obstacles. The exercise, a mock category four hurricane in Florida, tested the group's ability to coordinate and evacuate approximately 30 casualties with local and federal emergency responders, hospitals, transporters and triage patients during reception.
"It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's a matter of when for us," said Sgt. Maj. Byron Grubb, chief medical noncommissioned officer, NDMS, FCC El Paso. "We're always on standby, watching the weather or if there's a war that happens and there are casualties. You never know, so we keep that duffle bag ready to go."
By testing the new site, the organization is able to identify concerns such as fiscal restraints for security, transportation and other needs to meet objectives.
"We found everything that we needed to find, there's a lot of things that we didn't know," said Grubb. "There's a lot more involved than just (transporting the patient). We don't go home, until the last patient goes home."
In support of the NDMS mission, Soldiers with William Beaumont Army Medical Center provided patient transport and administrative functions, an example of the unified command structure of the NDMS and the partnerships which maximize unit effectiveness. Also participating in the exercise was the El Paso Fire Department, El Paso International Airport, American Red Cross, Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF), and the El Paso Border Regional Advisory Council (BorderRAC).
"It's a team effort. We could not accomplish our mission without everybody else," said Remy.