Dr. Mark Kirk
demonstrates equipment used for personal protection during hazmat
We believe in planning for
disasters by using some basic disaster medicine principles. These
are outlined in detail in Auf der Heide: Disaster Response:
Principles of Preparation and Response.
1) Learn from past
Disaster planning must anticipate and plan for recurring difficulties
that studies identified in past disasters.
2) Communication during a
disaster is often inadequate.
Disasters pose unusual demands for coordination between
organizations. For this reason, a substantial portion of disaster
communications problems are related to the exchange of information
among organizations. The Poison Center’s ability to acquire and
disseminate information in a crisis makes it a critical information
3) For disaster planning to be
effective, it must be inter-organizational.
The typical response to a disaster includes multiple
independent organizations from the private sector as well as from
agencies of city, county, state, federal, and special district
governments. Often, they have planned independently and end up
responding that way, with little grasp of how each fits into the
overall response. In contrast to most routine emergencies,
disasters introduce the need for multi-organizational and
multi-disciplinary coordination. The regional poison center is
uniquely positioned to bridge many of these organizations together
during a crisis. We want to continue to build relationships with
agencies so that we improve our day-to-day responses to problems, such
as food born illnesses or rabies exposures. According to Dr Auf
der Heide, “Those who work together well on a daily basis tend to work
together well in disasters.”
4) Base disaster plans on what people
are likely to do rather than what they should do.
During a crisis, people (victims, worried-well, first
responders, and health care providers) will look toward familiar and
trustworthy resources for information and guidance. Even for
events not considered “poisoning”, people seek advice from the regional
poison centers. For example, the Blue Ridge Poison Center
received over 75 calls in the weeks following the anthrax attacks in
2001. We want to improve our capabilities for what people are
likely to do.
5) Rely on local resources for up
to 72 hours after a disaster. Our goal is to provide practical
and accurate health care information to clinicians during the early
phases of a disaster (hours to days). We will continue to be an
information hub to assist state and federal agencies to distribute
information. Ideally, we strive to disseminate “best available
information” before the first patient arrives to a treatment
facility. We want clinicians to have the best available
information, at the moment they need it, to make critical decisions
about patient care.
6) Strive for “Single-Voice” messages
for the media and public
Chaos, panic, confusion and fear will occur in large
disasters, especially related to terrorist acts. Coordinating
health information released to the public creates an image of being in
control. Conflicting messages create an opposite reaction that
leads to greater anxiety, fear and even mistrust in the leadership of
the disaster response. The poison center would like to be a team
player in sending a coordinated message to the public and media.
By building relationships with other organizations, we can create
messages regarding chemical health-related questions and provide our
services to other agencies for disseminating information during
incidents requiring their expertise.
7) Make Preparedness Adaptable to a
Wide Variety of Circumstances
Whenever possible, it is advantageous to adapt disaster procedures for
use in daily, routine emergencies. Although it is not possible to
prepare for every disaster contingency there are some problems that
occur with such regularity as to be quite predictable. It is these that
are the most amenable to planning. For example, almost every major
disaster requires procedures for the centralized gathering and sharing
of information about the overall disaster situation and the responding
and available resources. This idea of focusing on "generic"
disaster tasks most likely to be faced in all types of disasters has
been embodied in the concept of "comprehensive emergency management"
which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has used in its
"Integrated Emergency Management System".