Whether the event is fire, flood or earthquake or a major accident with mass casualties, being prepared is the key to any emergency response.
For Waikato District Health Board emergency management and response planning is vitally important. Like many public organisations, Waikato DHB has a big role to play to a coordinated response to civil emergencies. The Civil Defence Act recognises health workers as part of emergency services, alongside St John, Police, Fire and Civil Defence.
When an emergency happens, whether local, regional and national, it is crucial that emergency services and government agencies are all ‘on the same page’ and working closely together.
Practising together is an important part of that process.
Recently the DHB was part of an inter-agency simulation exercise to test its response to a mass casualty emergency situation. In this case, the pretend scenario was a fire event in a Hamilton club at 3am on a Sunday morning with over 100 people requiring medical assistance and Waikato Hospital’s emergency department already full.
Agencies participating in the exercise were NZ Police, Fire and Emergency Services, St John and NZ Blood Service, as well as Waikato Hospital’s integrated operations centre Midland Trauma Service , Emergency Department, operating theatres, Intensive Care Unit, High Dependency Unit, Ward M7, Laboratory, Attendant service, Security, hospital chaplains and the hospital’s accommodation service. The exercise used an international training system called Emergo Train System (ETS) which is a simulation system for training in emergency and disaster management particularly for health care organisations, rescue services, police forces, crisis support organisations. The Ministry of Health sponsors St John to deliver these exercises throughout New Zealand.
Waikato DHB emergency management manager Trev Ecclestone explains how the training exercise works. “It is what we call a table-top exercise, so we don’t actually have ambulances and fire engines rushing through the streets, and we don’t have 100 actors turning up at our emergency department. However it is still incredibly real for those who are participating.
“We have very realistic scenarios presented to the group, and we have to work out our response. This happens in real time, over a number of hours, and it is a very intense test of our ability to coordinate with other agencies, manage the sudden influx of patients, support families and management demands for public information,” he says.
He describes the simulation exercise as “very successful with lots of learnings that services will now take back to their teams and include in their department emergency response plans.”
He thanked all of the staff who assisted in planning and for those who participated in the exercise. “It’s a big effort for services to allow people off the floor to do this essential practice when they are so busy looking after our patients.”
What makes managing emergency situations easier is that all of the agencies involved use the CIMS (Coordinated Incident Management System) which defines clear roles and guidelines.
“Basically, it means we all speak the same language and know what roles different people or agencies need to take.”
“In a real emergency, that takes away any confusion about how we work together and who makes decisions.”
Ecclestone explains that CIMS training is done by many Waikato DHB staff, and is used regularly as a way of responding to any local situations such as chemical spills or significant hospital incidents. “We also have comprehensive emergency response plans for services and for the DHB as a whole.”