This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  March 25, 2002

Lest Terror Strike Again
New Medical Assistance Team
Prepares for Potential Disaster
By Pat Keefe

Although there may be no preventing the next disaster - be it natural or man-made - in the wake of September 11, there's no shortage of disaster-control planning and preparation.

Earlier this month, the Health Center hosted a team of experts from Texas A&M University for three days, to train and establish a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The Team is one of Connecticut's responses to September 11 - creating a self-contained emergency unit that can respond on short notice and is trained in diagnosing and treating mass casualties under adverse conditions.

The unit consists of 160 volunteers: 80 are considered full staffing, the others are back-ups. Members of the unit are trained to respond to everything from a catastrophe to a conventional event, like OpSail or the Olympics. They carry their own supplies and equipment, and can move out as a unit within 24 hours. Once on site, they establish a medical response post similar to a M.A.S.H. unit. The unit's primary medical service, like that of an emergency department, is to stabilize patients.

The training consisted of three days - 24 hours - of fundamental courses in nuclear, biological and chemical incidents, and the emergency medical services to respond to them. Participants learned to recognize, diagnose nd treat patients with signs or symptoms of being afflicted by nerve agents or biological contaminants.

The training, which was sponsored by the state Department of Public Health, was coordinated by Garrett Havican of the Health Center's Department of Traumatology and Emergency Medicine.

Thomas Regan, an assistant professor of traumatology and emergency medicine and a program participant, said, "I think it was a good initial exposure to the hazards of possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. I'm looking forward to more activities and training sessions like this in the future, to help us prepare for situations of any magnitude."

DMAT is similar to, but has different applications from, the Health Center's tactical team, Good Medicine in Bad Places, which responded to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. That team is a squad-sized unit of emergency medical specialists and a physician, capable of operating in confined spaces and performing rescue and recovery as well as emergency medical treatment.

DMAT resembles a mobile emergency room. DMAT volunteers include emergency medical technicians and paramedics, nurses and doctors, and medical technicians, but also drivers, warehouse specialists, communications experts, planning, logistics and operations experts, accountants, lawyers, and others.

Procedurally, there's more to it than just banding together and volunteering.

The unit's goal is to become a Level 1 unit, the highest classification of preparedness, training and medical skill. The unit is in the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit entity, an important tax classification with implications for fund raising and reimbursement , as well as federal equipment contributions.

The unit also is applying for a memorandum of understanding with the Region 1 Federal Emergency Management Agency in Boston.

The Health Center has an important contribution to make in establishing the service. With its own paramedic unit and tactical response team, the Health Center greatly augments the level of professionalism and capability of DMAT.

"The Health Center is well suited to host and coordinate DMAT activities," Havican said. "We supply emergency medical services oversight to about 15 pre-hospital care providers, including first-response programs for police, fire and EMS services, as well as for state agencies such as the Department of Revenue Services and the Department of Administrative Services, and local industries such as Trumpf of Farmington. We also provide paramedic service at the Health Center, Bradley Airport and East Windsor, and individual response programs in Canton, Avon, Farmington and Windsor Locks."

Issue Index