Disaster Response Drill for Earthquake Planned for May 18, 2011

On May 18, an earthquake will strike Arkansas. However, Wisconsin will feel the effects of the catastrophe too. The Mississippi River will rise above its banks, causing flooding and minor infrastructure damage in the state.

This ‘earthquake’ of course is not real. But it could be. This scenario will be part of a multi-state exercise linked to a national drill. Jefferson and Racine counties will have hazmat exercises in conjunction with this regional event.

All Ministry hospitals will participate in this statewide exercise.

“Operation Vigilant Guard is a multi-state exercise on May 18 conducted by the federal government,” said Denny Thomas, director, risk management and disaster preparedness, Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. “The state of Wisconsin will be part of it, based on flooding that will occur in the Mississippi basin, and La Crosse hospitals will be required to evacuate. All 123 Wisconsin hospitals will be participating in this exercise.

“We have two key objectives. One is assessing and validating our patient surge capacity planning, which means maximizing a hospital’s ability to receive patients, and the other component is an electronic notification called WI Trac, a way of communicating capability and capacity to other hospitals. We’ve never used it on a state-wide level such as this, so it’s a great learning opportunity.”

Wisconsin Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program (WHEPP) will test the Wisconsin Trac (WI Trac) system for inter-hospital communications in support of four hospitals in the “flood zones” southwestern Wisconsin. WI Trac is a web-based application and bed reporting system. Every hospital keeps it open all of the time. It gives hospitals a chance to prepare for a mass casualty situation.

“When the flu outbreak occurred last year, an alert was sent out on a Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. for a hospital looking for a specialized ventilator,” said Thomas, who is the Region 2 Chair for WHEPP, which encompasses 15 counties. “The message was sent state-wide, and within 15 minutes, a hospital responded and had a ventilator available that could be shared. It is a way for all hospitals, Ministry and non-Ministry, connecting in the event that there is an emergency or circumstances that would put hospitals at stress. It’s a very, very cool tool. It’s also a huge step forward.”

“This is not just system planning. It’s regional and state-wide planning,” added Thomas. “We work together with facilities like Aspirus and Neillsville, and Theda Clark, on preparedness planning. I think it’s so critically important. It’s a survival strategy, to be honest.”

Thomas said there is also a weekly test to make sure that people are competent in using the WI Trac tool.

The National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) will be activated to transport earthquake victims to the NDMS receiving center at General Mitchell Field in Milwaukee as part of this drill. Hospitals in Region 7 in Southeast Wisconsin and Region 5 in Southcentral Wisconsin can elect to “receive” federal patients.

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