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How Military Hospitals and Clinics Prepare for Disasters

Image of  When disaster strikes – like massive wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes or floods – Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) need to be prepared. . An Airman stacks sand bags in preparation for the 2022 hurricane season at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 27, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

When disaster strikes – like massive wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes or floods – military hospitals and clinics need to be prepared.

These major facilities across the Military Health System have to continue existing operations, and at the same time they also need to be prepared to treat injuries or illnesses that might result from the disaster itself.

That’s why it’s essential that military hospitals and clinics be prepared in the event of an evacuation.

“We look at our plans, our hazards vulnerability assessment for the area, and we sit down with all of the nurses, different department heads, and we get a list of medical items that they might need for each event,” said Christopher Springer, head of the Emergency Management/MEM, Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Each military hospital and clinic has multiple mobile medical kits at the ready for different disaster situations as part of their continuity of operations plans when Disaster Medical Assistance Teams are called upon.

“They contain everything from syringes to IV bags, catheters to sodium chloride,” Springer said. The list is of medical materiel is so large because military hospitals and clinics provide a higher level of care.

“We have one mobile kit for evacuation. We have one for sheltering in place, we have one for a possible active shooter. That way, we have something to quickly reference to see whether we have all those items,” which are stored throughout each facility, according to Springer.

Military hospitals and clinics have generators, back-up generators, and external generators, as well as multiple back-ups for refrigerators for medications. “If all other redundancies fail, our facilities department is prepared to reach out to pre-identified contractors and vendors who can provide necessary resources,” he said.

Evacuating a Military Hospital or Clinic

To evacuate an entire facility when the worst-case scenario happens and there is no power at all, medical staff would escort ambulatory patients down stairwells or use medical evacuation sleds for bed-ridden patients.

“In the worst-case scenario, we may have to hold some patients on station at our pre-evacuation locations until we get EMS vehicles to arrive to transport patients to another location,” Springer said.

Military medical personnel will continue to support wounded warfighters and beneficiaries no matter what disaster occurs.

“If they're not prepared mentally, and if their family is not prepared, if they're worried about their family, their minds might tend to go somewhere else instead of focusing on the patient care mission,” Springer suggested.

To counter this, “the biggest thing I instruct the staff to do is to make sure you know your surroundings, make sure you have the ability to communicate, and make sure you have a plan to let your family know that if a disaster happens, you both know where to go and who to contact,” Springer said.

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