By Roger G. Meyer, Evans Army Community Hospital Public Affairs OfficerMay 7, 2010
DENVER---Fort Carson Soldiers participated in a federal-government-hosted patient reception exercise at Denver International Airport April 14.
Operating under the National Disaster Medical System, more than 30 federal and nonfederal agencies gathered to train and rehearse a unified medical response to a simulated earthquake in Utah.
The NDMS is an asset-sharing partnership that reacts when a disaster occurs somewhere in America. As casualties exceed a region's medical capabilities, patients are evacuated to other cities or areas to receive care.
Craig E. Williams, emergency management planner with the Evans Army Community Hospital Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security office, explained that until 2009, Fort Carson was the Federal Coordination Center for patient reception. The Denver Department of Veterans Affairs has since assumed the responsibility, and this was the second time the VA hosted this exercise called "Mountain Move."
"We were the lead last year, and now we're in support; it's a transition period," said Williams. "We're providing Evans Hospital's personnel as subject matter experts and augmentees to the VA's patient reception team, equipment and 40 simulated patients from the Warrior Transition Battalion."
A Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 aircraft arrived at the DIA hanger and served as the simulated "air ambulance" from Utah. Its crew then quickly loaded the Soldier patients onto the stationary plane. With litters stacked four high, the plane became a bustle of activity as crew members practiced their patient-securing techniques.
As this was just an exercise and somewhat fun, Capt. John J. Goodwin, WTB operations officer felt that it might actually serve some therapeutic benefit, helping Soldiers overcome some bad memories.
"The last time some of these Soldiers were like this on an airplane it probably wasn't a good experience," said Goodwin.
Ten EACH medics served as litter bearers who off-loaded the mock patients. Some patients portrayed ambulatory injured while others were carried off on stretchers and rolled to the hanger on wheeled litters called "rickshaws." Once at the hangar, doctors and nurses from various agencies determined the nature of each patient's injuries and medical needs.
Sgt. 1st Class Terence McClain, noncommissioned officer in charge of the EACH's Patient Administration Department then took over.
"We receive the patients on litters and stack them head-in to reduce injuries or undue stress; we load the walking wounded back to front to help with accountability, and then my partner and I tag team to make sure we're accurately accounting for each patient," he said.
McClain is no stranger to this scenario as he's done it before, but in Iraq.
"We did it for real and had to evacuate casualties," he said. "There was one time we didn't have communication systems and that was difficult."
For this exercise, he used a scanner device linked to an automated tracking system, capturing information from each patient's national disaster, triage tag. This helped track patients throughout the whole process.
Based on the patients' needs, they were then matched to participating Denver metropolitan area hospitals and transported there by ground and air ambulances. At the hospitals, patients would have been admitted and further treated for their injuries.
According to Williams, in an actual emergency, if there was a limited bed capacity in Denver, patients could be transported to the Colorado Springs area. Besides Fort Carson's Evans Army Community Hospital, Memorial and Penrose-St. Francis are participating NDMS hospitals.
"The exercise went well," said Williams. "During the inception of a new program, you're going to encounter some challenges, and that's what training is for, to work through them. I think everyone did a very good job at the end of the day; all patients were evacuated safely and treated appropriately."
Lt. Col. Joseph N. Winter, director of EACH Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, foresees continued Army involvement in supporting the "Mountain Move" exercise as it fosters good relations between the local communities and the Department of Defense.
"Interagency cooperation with the VA and others is very important; Evans
Army Community Hospital understands its role in the community for these types of exercises," he said. "It makes us better able to provide national disaster response services to our communities."