Health First Joins Dozens of Central Florida Hospitals and Agencies Preparing For Worst Case Scenario
By Space Coast Daily // April 26, 2022
Drill included more than 1,300 student volunteers acting as 'victims'
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The first all-associate emergency alert text and email came at approximately 8:10 a.m. Thursday morning:
“Multiple 911 calls received about a major explosion on Central Florida Parkway in Orlando. Callers are reporting multiple buildings leveled and HEALTH-FIRST-on fire near a chemical plant. Reports of flying debris over several city blocks. THIS IS AN EXERCISE.”
And with that, all four Health First hospitals in Brevard County officially kicked off a mass-casualty disaster exercise encompassing dozens of hospitals across Central Florida and including more than 1,300 student volunteers acting as “victims,” dozens of municipal and emergency management agencies, and hundreds of other volunteers supporting the exercise.
Sponsored by the Central Florida Disaster Medical Coalition (CFDMC), the goal of the exercise was to prepare local hospitals, medical professionals, emergency response personnel, schools and law enforcement to respond to a catastrophic incident should one take place in Central Florida.
Within minutes, the Health First Command Center was officially operational and every team – from medical staff, nursing, admissions, and security to finance, administration, plant operations and public relations – were in place within each hospital’s nerve center receiving information and preparing for the flux of injuries, visitors, and media inquiries that would soon arrive.
“This exercise is as real as it gets,” said Eric Alberts, CFDMC Board Chair. “It better equips hospital staff to respond to real disasters. This was proven during the 2016 Pulse tragedy (in Orlando). Even preparing for the exercise enhances our readiness for future disasters.”
The Coalition is a not-for-profit operating with a vision to create and sustain a resilient community with a common purpose and voice, protecting and saving lives during disasters of all types and sizes.
Within an hour, dozens of “walking wounded” patients, bearing tattered clothing, makeup resembling injuries, and tags with descriptions of the nature of their injuries, began showing up at the Emergency Departments of all four Health First hospitals, all meant to test and stretch the capacity and response level of the hospitals during otherwise “normal” operations.
The drill, which was the first and largest of its kind in size and participation in more than two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was, in fact, so detailed and lifelike, mock “fights” even broke out among “families and loved ones” of the injured, adding further complexity to an already chaotic scene.
“Living on the Atlantic Coast, within a region that also happens to serve a major cruise industry, a global vacation destination, one of the nation’s largest air force bases, and the Kennedy Space Center – not to mention living under the constant threat of hurricanes six months out of the year, we are well-versed and prepared to meet many challenges that might come our way,” said Robert Contreras, Health First Emergency Preparedness Manager.
“The exercise, however, was on an entirely different level – simulating a terrorist attack on a chemical plant, resulting in injuries on a massive scale that would, in a live situation, impact the medical, law enforcement and emergency response capabilities of the entire Central Florida region.
‘This was an amazing, highly realistic drill that also involved monitors from medical organizations in other territories and states (including the University of Miami School of Medicine and Wellstar Health System in Atlanta.) We could not be more impressed by or proud of the response of our clinicians and associates at every level of our organization for the way in which they responded to every challenge that was thrown their way,” continued Contreras.
Three frenzied hours later, after dozens of patient arrivals, simulated fights with at least one (simulated) reported gun shot – even visits from real FBI agents seeking “clues” and “perpetrators” in the chemical plant attack – the drill ended with a final, brief “all clear” message:
“ENDEX…. This will conclude today’s exercise. We appreciate all of your support. Controllers will conduct a hot wash [debrief and review] in the command centers for those invited. THIS IS AN EXERCISE”
Visit HF.org/news_and_events to find out what’s happening at Health First.