MOUNT VERNON — Wednesday was not a usual day in Knox Community Hospital’s emergency department. A nurse was taken hostage inside a triage room. While patients at the ER were being evacuated, a hazardous materials team responded to a situation of people exposed to gasoline from a nearby automobile crash. The scenario was part of a mock disaster drill planned to give hospital personnel some on-the-job disaster training.
“We always want to be disaster-preparedness ready,” said Prema Samhat, director of marketing, community relations and development at KCH. “We want our people to know what their roles and responsibilities are. First and foremost, it’s patient safety ... then employee safety and facility safety.”
A Code Silver alert, which refers to a weapon involved, was issued at the hospital when the hostage situation occurred at the triage room. ER personnel quickly contacted the police department and 9-1-1 with an Emergency Services Unit team arriving quickly to handle the situation.
“We actually did not have a weapon in sight because we didn’t want to panic anyone,” said Dr. Judy Schwartz, vice president of medical affairs. The source of how the ER personnel discovered the hostage situation would not be revealed as to keep their resources confidential.
Real-life patients in the ER needing attention received uninterrupted care. Those standing in as actors were transported to a safe shelter. In a real-life crisis, Schwartz said that patients could be transported to the Urgent Care Center or the Knox County Health Department for care.
Three students from the Mount Vernon High School drama club posed as members of the media and were diverted away from the scene. “We wanted to minimize chaos and provide for their safety,” said Schwartz. The students were being housed at the Educational Resource Center.
Those involved in the gasoline exposure from the auto accident were treated by members of the KCH hazardous materials team who are specially trained in a variety of hazardous conditions they may face. The Mount Vernon Fire Department was present for backup in this case, but their assistance was not needed. “All of our methods worked,” said Schwartz.
A briefing session followed the training to assess the success of the drill. Attending were Dr. Judy Schwartz; Dr. Bruce Behner, chief operating officer; and members of the Mount Vernon Police Department, Mount Vernon Fire Department, Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
“It was very brief. It seemed that all the key roles were enacted out effectively,” said Samhat following the drill.”
Two disaster drills are scheduled each year where different scenarios are involved to offer a variety of disaster situations.
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