Mock disaster tests emergency readiness

University Hospital practices mass casualty event with volunteers

SAN ANTONIO - University Hospital was abuzz with volunteers posing as anthrax victims on Wednesday morning as part of a city-wide staged disaster to test emergency preparedness.

"It's basically every hospital in San Antonio and surrounding communities, all of the EMS agencies, Bexar County management, the Red Cross is involved, so it's a very large effort," said Leni Kirkman, University Hospital spokeswoman

In the scenario, a downtown hospital had to be evacuated due to a suspected anthrax contamination in the ventilation system. That hospital was evacuated and patients sent to other hospitals.

Emergency crews said they learned a lot about how to deal with the situation by studying what happened in the Northeast, when hospitals there were evacuated due to Hurricane Sandy.

"Certainly we were all watching the news reports over the past several weeks of a real-world disaster happening to hospitals up in the northeast and we definitely followed those really closely and looked for any lessons wherever we can," said Kirkman.    

Although San Antonio hasn't had a real-life, large-scale disaster, the possibility is always there.

"We have a lot of factories here, chemical factories; we have the biological research center that's probably seven (or) eight miles from here that has a lot of contagious diseases that we don't think about. There' s a ton of things that can happen here in San Antonio, so we have to be ready," said Vincent Antu, an emergency room technician at University Hospital

Kirkman said the hospital had planned this mock disaster readiness test for months and tests of this scale usually only  happen once a year. 

She said round-table exercises are practiced several times a year.



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