Prepping for a disaster

ESCANABA – Webster’s Dictionary describes “triage” as the allocation of treatment to patients, especially battle and disaster victims, according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.

That’s just what a group of emergency medical personnel from across the region were learning about during the Fourth Annual Venetia Bryers Memorial Emergency Medical Service Education Conference held at M-TEC on Bay College this past weekend.

“They’re learning about mass casualties and triage and how to treat and transport a mass amount of people,” explained Amy Anderson, Delta County EMS and community educator/conference coordinator.

In addition to lectures and practical training, participants were instructed what to do in the event of a disaster involving many injured people. Conference instructors, assisted by volunteers, portrayed a mock bus accident with mass casualties on Friday.

The 20 “injured” and two “deceased” victims included students training to be emergency medical technicians and students from the Bark River-Harris National Honor Society, said Anderson.

Instructors and participants went through the mock emergency beginning with a 9-1-1 dispatcher calling emergency personnel and ambulances to the scene of the accident. Many of the participants’ cell phones actually rang during the exercise.

Instructors were assigned different emergency roles – such as medical command officer, staging officer, treatment officer, and transportation officer – and then explained their individual responsibilities.

During initial assessment of the injured during triage, victims are labeled red, yellow or green according to the severity of their medical needs, explained Emergency Medical Technician Becky O’Brien. Red patients are considered at the greatest risk while green patients are considered to have minor non-life-threatening injuries. Yellow-tagged patients are in-between and monitored.

Other resources that would be set up in the event of a mass casualty include an emergency operation center for the safety of the county, explained Bob Berbohm, emergency management coordinator for Delta and Schoolcraft counties.

Preparations for a mass casualty incident include dispatching police for traffic control and calling out fire departments in the event of fires and hazardous spills. Berbohm also offered tips on how to best communicate with the media and victim’s friends and family during a mass casualty incident.

OSF St. Francis Hospital has procedures in place to handle mass injuries, said Dr. Ed Bigsby, explaining how the local emergency room would prepare for incoming patients.

Additional staff would be called in to help. Officials would communicate with other area hospitals to receive and care for patients. Previously-scheduled surgeries would be suspended in case of incoming emergency surgeries, Bigsby added.

The region also has access to a hospital preparedness trailer which carries a variety of medical supplies including cots for a mass casualty incident or disaster, said paramedic Tim Kobasic.

Kobasic added not all emergency-response resources in a region would be dispatched to the scene of a mass casualty. Some personnel would be kept available for local emergencies which could arise at the same time, he said.

The educational conference is held in honor of Venetia Bryers who served more than 35 years in emergency medical services prior to her death in 2010. Rampart Emergency Medical Services, of Marquette General Hospital, presented the conference which offers participants opportunity to earn credits towards their licenses.

In addition to the training on mass casualties, the two-day conference also included instruction on communications, intervenes access, basic life skills, spinal injuries, airway management, and other medical emergencies.