By Wendy Sarubbi | June 10, 2013 11:03 am

DSC_1642The UCF College of Medicine played host to a statewide conference on disaster preparedness June 4 to teach the medical education community how to respond to emergencies from wildfires to a helicopter crash.

The event included representatives from all of Florida’s medical schools who were teamed with  officials from the Florida Department of Health for a tabletop exercise that required them to devise a quick response to a specific emergency. The disaster for Orlando’s meeting involved a helicopter crash in front of the Orlando VA Medical Center, just yards from the College of Medicine Campus in Medical City .

The exercise was designed not only to bolster disaster preparedness skills, but also to encourage a network of medical and emergency professionals. “If you work together and you know one another, when something bad happens, you’ve got a level of trust with each other,” said Terry Schenk from the Florida Department of Health. “If you can pick up the phone and know who you’re talking to on the other end, you can make magic happen.”

DSC_1639One of the primary discussions involved establishing alternative care sites (ACS), that can be used for mass triage and patient care. Such sites, created quickly out of schools and stadiums, helped care for the injured during disasters like the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin, MO tornadoes. Participants were divided into three groups that focused on necessary steps to respond to a mass disaster, including maintaining communication between first responders, identifying new hazards that occur after a disaster and the use of social media to communicate with the public and media.  During a disaster, officials are faced with a complex set of needs and circumstances. While trying to communicate with the public, for example, officials must be sure they are not violating any patient’s medical privacy rights.

Exercise Director Ray Runo said he hoped the simulation exercise made medical educators more aware of those complexities. “There are a lot of misconceptions about good planning,” he said. “The largesse of this scenario is going to open your eyes to those complexities. We’re not going to ask you to solve all these problems, but we want to put them on your radar.”

Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine, addressed her peers from medical schools across the state and echoed the importance of coming together to be more prepared. “Having teams here from our own medical schools to learn, connect and create the infrastructure we need really gives you peace of mind,”she said.

Future preparedness events will be held across the state, each featuring a different simulated disaster.

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