With more than 40,000 employees and students on the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus each day and millions of patients treated each year, anticipating the next disaster is essential. Continuing the momentum from its fall 2015 preparedness campaign, the UAB Health System united with local, state, and national partners to test warning, communication, and response procedures. After participating in a virtual exercise in summer 2015, the UAB Health System hosted a full-scale exercise for the university community on March 2, 2016, and they wanted to not only maintain momentum but build on it.
“Preparedness is a year-round priority for us to ensure the safety of our patients, staff, students, and visitors,” said JVann Martin, director of Emergency Management for the UAB Health System. “Due to the increased threat of tornadoes in recent years, we took this training opportunity to ensure our facilities are ever-ready.”
Making the Exercise More Real
UAB Medicine staff designed the exercise to simulate an actual emergency impacting the campus and central Jefferson County area. As a result, emergency communication systems spread a mock warning message to more than 500 stakeholders, including key response personnel, 60 controller/evaluators, 15 simulators, and 5 observers.
Amateur radio operators provided real-time communications about the storm’s location and shared damage report information to UAB throughout the exercise. UAB staff used WebEOC, an online interface for incident management, and the Alabama Incident Management System (AIMS) to provide additional information between emergency management and healthcare coalition partners.
More than 100 departments and clinics participated in the drill by activating their tornado emergency response plans, exercising sheltering in place, and taking other protective measures.
"Our collaboration with the America's PrepareAthon!
campaign enables us to respond to the challenges of
severe weather and empowers us to become more
resilient and ready for disasters."
--Randy Pewitt, UAB Executive Director for Emergency
To gauge students’ real-time response to emergencies, event leaders interrupted classes at the UAB Schools of Business, Engineering, and Nursing, and drew students into the exercise. Instructors asked students to describe the quick decisions and strategic actions they would make during a real tornado event on campus. Randy Pewitt, UAB Executive Director of Emergency Management, was impressed with what he heard. “The actions of our students and staff prove exactly why UAB is StormReady,” he explained.
Simulating Response to a Tornado Touchdown
Outside the classroom, a second phase of the exercise engaged hundreds of people off campus. In this phase, area hospitals were faced with simulated mass casualties from a tornado touchdown in Birmingham. Through its Trauma Communications Center, the Birmingham Regional EMS System placed area hospitals on alert and provided periodic updates. In response, area hospitals activated their emergency operations plans to mobilize staff, equipment, and other resources in preparation for an influx of almost 100 severely injured patients.
“This event is an excellent example of how a community can enhance its capabilities through a continuous preparedness cycle of planning, organizing, equipping, training, evaluating, and improving,” said Bill Mayfield, RN and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, UAB Medicine.
To learn more emergency response in Alabama, visit UAB Emergency Management and Ready Alabama.