John Hausmann, director of plant operations, hurried through the Emergency Room door. Inside, a TV set murmured with one of the daytime talk shows. A patient seated in one of the chairs calmly read a magazine. The desk guard frowned, but did not seem overly concerned.
"We got the call," Hausmann said. "We're told to expect eight to 10 people from the scene, and another two will be walk-ins."
Within moments, a three-man crew carried a gray bundle slightly smaller than a steamer truck and deposited it onto the pavement just outside the Emergency Room's glass doors. They had trained for this moment. They opened the bundle, exposing a collection of metal ribs. When raised, they formed the framework of a tent. Some people stopped and frowned as the hospital crew unfolded a special yellow tent designed for decontamination. Eyebrows rose sharply when three other employees emerged from the Emergency Room a few minutes later wearing chemical contamination suits, gas masks and gloves.
On the other side of town, police, fire and emergency medical units responded to a simulated chemical spill on the property of the company IMTT.
While most of the victims would be treated on the scene, the hospital had to provide a means of handling anyone who was missed, especially those who might walk away from the disaster center.
The tent is only the first part of the operation that would bring people through four different levels of evaluation.
Mickey McCabe, director of Bayonne's Emergency Medical services, said this was an IMTT disaster drill to allow emergency service to respond to a hazardous material situation. It was done in conjunction with Bayonne Medical Center. "This allows us to work in concert," he said.
McCabe said in a normal situation, emergency services would respond to the scene, and depending on the nature of the emergency, one of the three top officials would take over overall operations.
"In the case of an actual disaster, one person would be in charge to make all the decisions, a unified command," he said. "If there is a raging fire, then that person would be the fire chief. If it is a hostage situation, then it would be the police chief. If it is a medical emergency, then the EMS person would be in charge."
In this drill, a simulated chemical spill results in 10 to 12 victims, two of whom walked to the hospital. A secondary disaster was also planned that simulates a bomb situation elsewhere.
"Before anyone goes into the hospital, we have to make certain that they are not contaminated," McCabe said.
Taking people through various steps
Marvin Apsel, vice president of operations, said there were four different areas of operations. People are decontaminated, evaluated, and then brought to various areas depending upon their need - which could mean surgery or some other service.
The staff made use of the cafeteria for numerous aspects of the operation only because the medical center was still in normal operations.
"Normally we have people placed in each floor," Apsel said.
The staff, as part of the test, was not told the number of people to expect, just as they would not know during a real situation.
"This makes the drill more authentic," he said.
David Anfang, M.D., bio-terrorism/disaster preparedness consultant and coordinator of the Medical Reserve Corps, plays a key role in these operations since he is the head of a staff of volunteers who come in to help fill in the ranks at the Medical Center. These volunteers are recruited from within Bayonne, and help relieve doctors and others during the hours an emergency may last. These volunteers also may be the front ranks if other paid personnel can not reach the hospital in time.
"It is important that the volunteers live in town," Anfang said, citing an overturned fuel truck that had blocked one access route into Bayonne even as the exercise took place. "It is very important to have people here who can respond to the emergency in case others cannot get into Bayonne."
Dr. Thomas Amato is one of the volunteers who came to the medical center today as part of the program, working triage. "This is a good idea," he said. "We're here to work wherever we're needed."
Has been an issue since the mid-1990s
Although the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 made the public aware of the potential for a problem, the United States government had already seen a need for protecting medical facilities in the mid-1990s after a biological attack on a Tokyo subway. In 1997, Congress passed the United State Domestic Preparedness Program.
"Even when emergency responders successfully decontaminate and [do] triage [for] large numbers of patients at the scene, it is unlikely that area hospitals are prepared to receive these patients and treat them within the boundaries of the existing health care system," the executive summary of that 1997 federal law said.
"This is one of several drills," said Robert H. Evans, president and CEO of Bayonne Medical Center. "While we have always had drills, since 9/11 the focus has been on been on a possible emergency response to a bioterror and hazard material effort."
Evans said he was proud of the team involved in the operations, from the decontamination unit to the medical personnel who evaluated the various patients.
Evans said evaluations would be made of the operations to look over the response time in each area, to determine what was done right and what still needed work.
"We are always looking ways to improve our response," he said.
The training allows people to respond to what might be overwhelmingly emotional situation, keeping personnel focused on what they needed to do next without thinking of the impact.
"That's what helped us get through 9/11," he said. "We just did what we needed to do."
Contact Al Sullivan at: firstname.lastname@example.org