EvergreenHealth, city staff attend FEMA training course

Picture this: An infectious disease is causing mass casualties. The local hospital is under staffed. The power’s out so the doctors and nurses are using a white board to keep track of patients.

Then a drunk man comes in and falls over, wiping the white board clean.

This was the scene at the Center for Domestic Preparedness during a recent FEMA training where members from EvergreenHealth and the City of Kirkland attended.

“They throw everything at you,” said Barb Jensen, trauma and preparedness program manager at EvergreenHealth. “The idea is they’re throwing things at you to see how you respond (in an emergency situation).”

About 20 people from EvergreenHealth and the City of Kirkland attended a five-day training at the Fort McClellan military base in Anniston, Alabama in late July. This was the third time a group from EvergreenHealth and the city have attended a FEMA disaster preparedness training.

Jensen said it’s important to extend the invitation to city staff, police and fire professionals, because a disaster is not the first time these jurisdictional representatives should be working together. She said it’s important to be on a first-name basis.

“I work very, very closely with folks from our local jurisdiction,” Jensen said. “It’s a real partnership.”

Jensen, who loves emergency preparedness and refers to herself as a “disaster geek,” spoke highly of the FEMA training program.

“There’s no better training anywhere,” she said. “For me the biggest lesson that I take away, is you really can’t wrap your head around what a real disaster feels like until you are dropped in the middle of one and that’s what immersion training does for you. It helps you feel that chaos, that adrenaline.”

She said after about five minutes of the final exercise, “you forget that it’s not real.”

The training exercise is designed to not be straight forward, she said. It’s designed to take into account the kinds of disasters health care professionals might encounter and give them the tools to respond.

“Emergency preparedness for health care is pretty darn important,” Jensen said.

She said hospitals are an important part of the community’s infrastructure.

“If health care fails, everything fails,” she said. “We are our community’s hospital. Our focus is our community members. They are our patients. We serve them.”

She said when an emergency happens, the hospital needs to remain open.

“So we’re here when the community needs us,” she said. “We don’t close because our community needs us. We’re making sure that that’s one more thing that will help remain functional and help the community.”

The training, including the flight out to Alabama and the room and board, is paid for by Homeland Security.

Jensen is hoping to send another group out to the training site in 2018.

And it’s not just nurses and doctors who attend. She’s sent security officers and managers, engineers, chaplains, social workers, supply chain folks, IT staff and administrators.

“It doesn’t matter what the disaster is, the entire organization needs to be ready,” Jensen said. “It’s important that it’s a broad representation of all of the services we have.”

EvergreenHealth’s commitment to emergency preparedness sets the organization apart, Jensen said.

“I want the public to know that Evergreen as an organization has a commitment to preparedness,” she said. “That’s really saying something.”