Disasters – RVH is ready to respond

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Neither tornadoes, earthquakes, external chemical spills nor the threat of possible violence during the recent G8 summit, scare Carol Holden. In fact, she says “bring it on!”

Well, not exactly. “We plan, prepare and practice and then hope we never have to use the skills,” says Holden, Director of Security Services at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

However, Holden is confident that when an emergency occurs she, and her team, will be ready.

In fact, by helping other hospitals in North Simcoe Muskoka with training and education in CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear) readiness, she knows they too will be equally confident. “Since 9/11, there has been a huge focus on preparing for worst-case scenarios including terrorist attacks and natural disasters,” says Holden. “Having the G8 Summit in Huntsville provided us with another opportunity to review and exercise our plan and educate and train everyone else. It is the chance to redefine roles and responsibilities and apply them to any emergency situation no matter how big or small.”

While there had always been an emergency plan at RVH, it was not always executed in the same manner as other local community responders (police, fire, paramedics). That’s when Holden took the initiative and helped create a plan that now has every emergency responder in the community talking the same language.

“The most dramatic change has been the ability for community responders to communicate in a standardized language through an Incident Management System. This multi-agency approach provides for organized leadership and response to emergency situations while ensuring effective communication,” says Holden.

This is accomplished through the establishment of an Incident Command Centre at a location near the site of the emergency. It is the place where leaders from all involved agencies gather to form a unified command post. The various leaders also have pre-designated roles regardless of the emergency so they address the situation immediately.

At RVH the Senior Leaders undertake their Incident Management roles during the emergency and activate the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the hospital or off site, if necessary, to provide leadership and ensure frontline responders are effectively equipped to respond to the emergency.

“The success of an effective emergency management program is driven from the leadership of an organization. As an organization RVH consistently promotes the importance of emergency preparedness ensuring that education, training and mock exercises are conducted on a routine basis,” says Holden.

So successful is this emergency plan, that when it came time to prepare for the G8 Summit, organizers looked no further than RVH. “It was identified that RVH was ahead of the game in terms of emergency preparedness and training in the CBRN program, which was a key for G8 planning. In fact we already had invited other acute care hospitals within our Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to utilize our program,” says Holden.

Holden went on to create a manual which was incorporated into the G8 training package for acute care hospitals through the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response Public Health Agency of Canada.

These two organizations will continue to promote the CBRN program which RVH will continue to support.

The G8 Summit was held under peaceful circumstances and was not wrought with the violence and public unrest of the Toronto G20 Summit which followed. And yet despite the fact there was no need to put the emergency plan into action, Holden is pleased with the time spent on the exercise.

“We could very well have been dealing with the same situation that we saw in Toronto. The idea is to be ready for any incident whether it is chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN). Every year we have a mock disaster or evacuation exercise of some kind just to keep the skills fresh. The G8 Summit just provided us with one more chance to stay on top of our game,” says Holden.

There was a surprising bonus to the emergency planning. “I think this exercise has brought the hospitals in the LHIN closer together and working on the same page. When it comes to dealing with an emergency – that’s always a good thing.”