Disaster Dry Run

Cedars-Sinai Practices Handling Rapid Surge of Patients During Drill

The scenario was simple: A 7.9 earthquake struck the Bay area in the early morning hours of November 16, resulting in a mass evacuation of injured victims into Southern California. Cedars-Sinai alone received 300 patients over a two-hour period, transported by vehicle and helicopter.

While it was just a drill, the situation called for a rapid and rigorous response from many departments in the medical center to receive, triage, transfer and treat "patients," who included nearly 40 volunteers and students.

"Participating in this statewide disaster response drill was a great exercise to test the hospital's surge capabilities," said Donna Earley, director of Environmental Health and Safety. "It showed us what works well, and what needs to be improved. For example, due to a high patient census that day, few beds were available so moving admitted ER patients to beds in units and other alternative sites was problematic."

"The Medical Staff Emergency Preparedness Task Force will continue to investigate ways to improve communications and to increase the presence and roles of the faculty, house staff and attending physicians in disasters involving large numbers of patients," Earley added. "As we prepare for future disaster drills, we will look at the possibility of entering patient information into our clinical patient systems to facilitate tracking and medical care."

Ryan Tuchmayer, Cedars-Sinai's Disaster/Surge Coordinator who joined the organization in July, said that hospital officials were overall very pleased with the results of the drill and that the organization can expect more tests on its patient care surge capabilities in the near future.

"The County of Los Angeles has indicated that it wants to test hospitals' surge capabilities in upcoming drills, so we can expect to be tested on these skills again. The hospital may have to temporarily halt elective surgeries, for example, in order to operate on trauma patients," he said.

Tuchmayer added that Cedars-Sinai recently held a second decontamination class for disaster personnel and will soon purchase a decontamination trailer that will be integrated into future disaster drills.

"These drills are an invaluable means of identifying areas of strength and those that need attention," said Paul Silka, M.D., Chief of Staff. "Debriefing following a drill enables us to prioritize which processes need the most improvement. This drill had great multi-departmental representation, which will be essential in the case of an actual event. The drill also validates the need for the work taken on by the Emergency Preparedness Task Force, as it helps us identify who will fill key roles for the medical staff during these events."