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Hospitals plan for emergencies continually

Local hospitals are continually reviewing emergency preparedness plans to best assess how they’d respond regionally to a catastrophic event, like a hurricane or a bombing.

And they aren’t doing it alone.

Mary Washington Healthcare’s two hospitals and Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center are part of the Northern Virginia Hospital Association, which coordinates responses between 21 facilities from here to Arlington.

The not-for-profit group formed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, reinforcing the reality of emergency preparedness in the 21st century, shaken again by Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured scores more.

“What 9/11 really showed the health care system is that during times of emergency and a crisis, they needed a formal mechanism to communicate with each other,” said executive director Zachary Corrigan.

A key component for that response is a regional hospital coordinating center, which is connected via radio and online with each hospital’s individual command centers.

That facilitates the sharing of resources and the coordination with first responders and emergency crews transporting patients.

For example, an ambulance wouldn’t show up at the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and be turned away because of lack of bed space, said spokeswoman Jeanne Burkett. That ambulance would already know the best destination for the patient.

The coordinating center is headquartered in Falls Church; Mary Washington Hospital is a backup site, as well as the primary site for emergencies in the southern end of the alliance.

“Hospitals have such a critical role, in terms of the welfare of the community,” Corrigan said. “Hospitals are very unique in that they’re also a business that needs to be able to operate on a day-to-day basis. They’re not like Target—they can’t just close the doors.”

Reviewing response and coordination tactics is an ongoing practice, not just something that’s taken up after natural disasters or other emergencies. And that goes not only for hospitals, but also for those who plan large-scale events.

For example, organizers of the Marine Corps Marathon are continually reviewing how past events have gone, and how to best serve runners and spectators, said Tami Faram, public relations coordinator for the Marine Corps series of races.

“The preplanning is important to everything we do for safety and security and immediate response,” Faram said. “For the Marine Corps Marathon, it’s essential to everything we do. We’re working and coordinating with so many teams—law enforcement, medical, emergency response—we’re all coordinating and working together.”

The 13.1-mile course of the Historic Half, planned for May 19, passes Mary Washington Hospital. The system works with the Marine Corps for typical race-day medical care. The event brought more than 8,000 runners to the city streets last year.

The hospital is in close communication with the race organizers throughout the event, said spokeswoman Debbie McInnis.

In the past, and again this year, the hospital will open its emergency operations center for the race as a pre-emptive measure.

On a regular basis, Mary Washington Healthcare holds monthly emergency preparedness meetings with representatives of many departments, including nursing, emergency, pharmacy, communication and security, said McInnis.

Other meetings also include members of the community, such as the city fire chief and the health department. Specialized training sessions are held periodically. A few months ago, employees at Stafford Hospital held an active-shooter drill in cooperation with the Stafford Sheriff’s Office.

“We continually train, we continually educate ourselves, we make sure we have the right resources,” McInnis said. “It’s not something we do every so often—we’re always doing something to make sure we’re prepared.”

Burkett said Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center employees also practice their response frequently so that everyone knows what to do if the time were to come.

“We have a whole system in place,” Burkett said, referring to the hospital’s command center.

An annual skills fair offers tests and training, and twice a year, the hospital holds a mock crisis situation.

The regional alliance wouldn’t be used only for events like a bombing or mass casualty situation.

It is used when problems arise at individual facilities, such as lost utilities, or for more-widespread scenarios such as tornadoes or hurricanes, Corrigan said.

Along with communication, the association offers training and education programs.

The National Healthcare Coalition Resource Center was launched earlier this month, based upon work from the Northern Virginia Hospital Alliance and other similar organizations. It will help regional coalitions connect with each other to share ideas and resources.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975



As part of its fleet, Stafford County’s Fire and Rescue has a medical ambulance bus and a supporting vehicle.

It’s a converted school bus that can hold up to 14 patients. It has generators, heat, air conditioning and lights, while the support unit carries medical supplies for a mass casualty event, said assistant chief Mark Doyle.

During a larger-scale emergency, first responders triage victims, categorizing them by severity of injury and transporting them based on that.

“Rather than tying up six medic units with six patients, we can put six patients on that bus and transport them,” Doyle said.

It was used during the bus accident on I–95 in Caroline County that killed four and injured more than 50 people.

The unit is stored at the Berea Station (No. 12). Since mutual aid agreements are in place in the region, if something were to happen in another locality, the bus would be used.

“Knowing that the half-marathon is going on, the bus is right at [U.S.] 17, so it’s pretty close, it’ll be available for them,” Doyle said.


A SWAT team descended on Mount Ararat Church on Tuesday evening.

But it was just business as usual for the Stafford Sheriff’s Office, which takes advantage of a variety of training opportunities.

Law enforcement officers train in vacant homes, schools, businesses and houses of worship. They also take advantage of the nearby Hogan’s Alley, a training ground at the FBI Academy in Quantico.

The Sheriff’s Office holds training sessions throughout the county, making sure members are prepared for emergencies.

“They want to make sure they’re ready to go,” said department spokesman Bill Kennedy. “They’re ready to go within seconds.”

He said that Monday’s tragedy in Boston underscores the need for law enforcement officers to be familiar with a variety of locations.

Greg Poss, executive pastor at Mount Ararat, said that the church has partnered with the Sheriff’s Office for training before.

“They learned a little bit about our building, and we learned about their procedures,” Poss said. “We live in a very complex world, and places that used to be literally sacred ground aren’t always safe anymore.”

—Amy Flowers Umble