Disaster Time!

Disaster Medical Assistance System


Today was long and exhausting, but a total blast! I am a member of the Hawaii DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team), a federal group that responds to disaster situations, or stands by in case of a possible disaster (less often the case).  We had training on Oahu all day Sunday, and I learned so much! I met several of the Maui members at the airport waiting for the 6:20 am flight. Yes, that’s early! We arrived pretty early at Schoffield Barracks, so waited around until the other DMAT members arrived.

Everyone had on their khakis, black boots and blue DMAT shirts. I had on khaki pants, but a grey shirt. Thankfully, I remembered I have the MCHV (Maui County Health Volunteers) scrub shirt, so I looked somewhat official.  Still, it was obvious I was the newbie. Everyone was comfortable and joking, and many of them had known each other for some time, while several of us had only been to one training,….or none in my case.

Once assembled, we trekked on down a dirt road for about 10 minutes to an area with abandoned cinder block buildings that looked like they had been bombed. Strewn around were a couple blown up cars. This was a simulation of a small town that had been bombed or burned…something. The military used it for exercises, so our first directive was to NOT pick up anything to take home. There was a possibility of something ‘live’, and we didn’t want anyone blowing holes in their pockets. No souvenirs for us!

Our first task was to set up our BOO (Base of Operations), which was the med tent. It took all 30 of us coordinating, and it was very cool to see come together. If it were a real exercise, we even would have put in air conditioning. We then split up into three groups for different training sessions. The first one, I gowned up in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for a possible chemical spill/warfare. We wore the full-on tyvek suit, rubber booties, double gloves, all taped shut, and then our PAPPR (the mask w/3 filters that would keep us alive). Definitely can’t imagine accomplishing much in those, let alone moving sick people down flights of stairs in an evacuation! BUT, that might be something we would have to do. Next station, we learned about some proper bandaging, but mainly about SALT triage. This begins to teach us to think about things in context of a disaster, vs a special trauma case. When you have very few resources, but hundreds of injured, triage is MUCH different. The last station, we went through some clinical scenarios, where we learned how to build an impromptu team of people with roles that hopefully matched with their qualifications. We had a couple ICU nurses, a physician, a pharmacist (me), a firefighter, and an EMT. Another group had a psychologist, which can be very helpful for the family that is worried about those sicker than them.

For lunch, we had Heater Meals. These are little boxed lunches with a special bag that heats up VERY HOT when salt water is added. You bundle it up, wait ten minutes, and you have a hot lunch! It’s bland, but it was novel and free. After lunch, we participated in a mock evacuation of a building. We didn’t know the situation going in, and we had to designate a team leader to coordinate all efforts. Glad I didn’t get that job! Everyone was very helpful, but there are a lot of things to keep in mind, and unless you have been a part of a real disaster exercise, you may not be ready. We had Rescue Randys that weigh 150 pounds each, as well as several volunteers to help us figure out how to best triage and manage an efficient and complete evacuation. After that, we took down the BOO and headed back to the airport, where I promptly grabbed a huge plate of nachos, some buffalo wings, and a beer with a couple of our Maui crew. What a great day!


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