Putting Disaster Preparedness to the Test

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) and its partners in the Bethesda Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP) recently put their research to the test during a massive disaster drill.

The drill, held last month, is known as the Collaborative Multi-Agency Exercise (CMAX). It takes place every year, but this year it was part of the Capital Shield exercise that included 28 hospitals throughout the Washington metro region.

Digital Pen Tested During Disaster DrillWith volunteers dressed as “victims,” the hospitals evaluated how they would respond to, and work together, during a catastrophic event. Recognizing the importance of communication and information sharing during a man-made or natural disaster, NLM and its partners are working to address the communication problems hospitals may experience. Staff from several NLM departments tested five projects during the drill.

  • With the surge of patients arriving at hospitals, is there a better way to triage them? Wei Ma in the Office of Computer and Communications Systems (OCCS) tested a digital pen. Hospital workers used a pen containing a camera to record medical information on patients coming into the emergency department. With the information in a digital form, data from multiple patients can be summarized and analyzed to help hospital administrators decide how to allocate resources.
  • With hospitals working together to handle so many injured people, how can they safely share patient information?  Ivor D’Souza and Wei Ma of OCCS tested the Patient Data Exchange system. It can be used when patients are transferred between hospitals. It allows patient information to be sent electronically ahead of time, so a hospital can prepare for a patient’s arrival.
  • What would happen if the Internet and the telephone system were unavailable and hospitals couldn’t communicate? Victor Cid in the Division of Specialized Information Services (SIS) tested use of a backup communications system that makes use of Amateur Radio resources and the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) to transmit digital information via e-mail and text messaging.
  • After disasters, it’s common for people to be missing and for their relatives to flood hospitals looking for them. Michael Gill in the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) tested the Lost Person Finder for family reunification. Photographs of disaster victims are managed in a database and can be shown on large displays at hospitals or accessed via a Web site so people can find out if their loved one is at a particular hospital.
  • How can hospitals keep track of so many patients moving through the facility during a disaster? D’Souza tested the use of a real-time location system to track patients as they are moved from one part of a hospital to another.

NLM’s Disaster Information Management Research Center, part of SIS, coordinates all of the Library’s disaster-related research. The research projects tested during the drill are among 11 projects funded as part of the Bethesda Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP). The partnership includes NLM and the NIH Clinical Center on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., and two neighboring hospitals, the National Naval Medical Center and Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine. The three hospitals formed the partnership in 2004 to work together in a disaster and to serve as a model that could be used around the country. NLM joined the effort in 2008. Congress provided funding from 2004-2008.

Photo caption: Staff at Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine triage “victims” during a disaster drill. A digital pen containing a small camera is used to record the medical information.