Exercises test medical response of 123rd Airlift Wing, VA after major earthquake
By Capt. John T. Stamm, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 19, 2011
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Amidst the chaos of moans, groans and cries for help, members of the 123rd Airlift Wing conducted patient triage and provided emergency medical care for more than a dozen men and women badly injured in an earthquake and subsequent plane crash here May 18.
Fortunately, the patients were volunteers, and their injuries weren't real. Instead, they were part of two simulations designed to test the disaster-response capabilities of the Kentucky Air Guard medical group and multiple federal agencies, including the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville.
In the first scenario, a C-130 carrying injured earthquake victims landed at the Kentucky Air Guard Base, where medical personnel were standing by to carry them off the plane and prepare them for transport to local hospitals. Many of the "patients" had been evacuated from simulated hospitals and nursing homes in the notional earthquake zone, which meant they required special care as soon as they arrived in Louisville, according to Lt. Col. Beth Leistensnider, medical readiness officer for the 123rd Airlift Wing.
Although medical personnel from the wing assisted with patient care during the first scenario, the event primarily was intended to test the VA's support of the National Disaster Medical System, Colonel Leistensnider explained. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NDMS was created to manage the federal government's overall medical response to major emergencies and disasters. In addition to the VA, the NDMS also partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, state and local departments of health, and private hospitals.
"In the event of a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake, the Louisville VA will be responsible for setting up a patient reception area on our base," Colonel Leistensnider said. "Under NDMS, federal authorities will arrange for patients to be flown here from affected areas, the patients will be received by the VA, and they will be transported to local health care facilities."
The partnership between the VA and the Kentucky Air Guard is a valuable one, according to William Young, emergency response coordinator for the Louisville VA.
"The base's involvement in this operation is very critical," Mr. Young said. "We don't have the manpower or support to do this by ourselves. Additionally, the medical staff here provides us with invaluable training on how to provide the best care to a large number of patients."
Colonel Leistensnider agreed that joint exercises offer tremendous benefits for patient care.
"The more contact we have with the different agencies we may be involved with during an emergency, the more effective we all become," she said.
The second exercise held May 18 was limited to the wing's 123rd Medical Group, whose members were tasked with rendering aid to earthquake victims who were subsequently involved in a plane crash. The scenario required triage of difficult and combative patients and emergency medical care under field conditions, with cases ranging from head trauma and fractured bones to a heart attack and a woman in labor.
"After notification of the incident, we set up our medical control and emergency operations center, set up our communications channels, practiced our system of patient tracking and provided treatment as patients arrived," Colonel Leistensnider said.
"We didn't know what was coming at us, which is a very realistic possibility. But we met our objectives by creating a realistic environment and performing our duties using the equipment we had available. With each exercise, we improve. The next time, we'll be even more prepared."
Both exercises augmented National Level Exercise 2011, a weeklong event designed to test the local, state and national response to a simulated earthquake along the New Madrid Fault. NLE 2011, which concludes May 20, includes participation from emergency responders in eight central states, the National Guard and multiple federal entities.