Disaster teams try out new tools

Juneau emergency responders practice with surgical units

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2007

It took a group of Southeast Alaska disaster responders just eight minutes to put up a 20-foot vinyl octagon capable of housing a mobile surgical unit inside Centennial Hall on Thursday. It was their first try.

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A recently awarded federal grant provided Southeast Alaska with $600,000 to equip and train local responders with six mobile medical surge units for quick response to any number of possibilities.

Juneau Emergency Programs manager Michael Patterson said Juneau faces many disaster possibilities: A major earthquake, devastating avalanches, a 737 crash, building collapse, and a major infectious disease outbreak.

He said the threat that any one of those scenarios would result from terrorism is low, but that Juneau is a "state capital and a major tourist destination."

The new surge units create mobile medical facilities that can be configured in multiple ways to meet the needs of any disaster response the city or the region faces.

Patterson said the state disaster office in Anchorage is well equipped and has great plans, but the city should be prepared to be on its own for 24 to 72 hours.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Training Officer John George said the new system adds to his overall disaster response "tool box."

"There are a lot of things this could be use for," George said.

The tents can become "clean rooms" used for emergency surgery or configured to be field work stations for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The units, built in Oregon, come with generators, heating and cooling, pressure monitors and hospital beds.

State public health nurse Kathy Miller said the new equipment fosters disaster planning as state and local emergency planners strengthen their response capability.

In addition to Juneau, the units are proposed for Sitka, Ketchikan, Skagway and Wrangell. Each has a regional hospital.

Patterson said the units are highly mobile and can be transported on the Southeast's eclectic transportation system of small planes, barges and ferries.

If needed, all the separate units combine to create a 56-bed hospital.

On Thursday, the training team started one of the 14 kilowatt generators then fired up the heating and cooling system that's capable of creating positive or negative pressure inside the mobile structure.

Patterson said with the system's ability to control air pressure, it could be used to assist Bartlett Regional Hospital if a communicable disease like SARS broke out. Air from inside the tent is forced through a HEPA filter that captures bacterial and viral organisms stopping the spread of disease.

"We could keep those folks out of the hospital so they don't contaminate the whole hospital," Patterson said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com

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