Officials will test anti-terrorism and force protection measures at Walter Reed Bethesda during HEKLA, a mass casualty exercise scheduled for Oct. 5.
Although the emergency department will be open for business and all inpatient services will continue as usual, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) will function at reduced hospital operations for the scheduled readiness training day.
Routine clinics will be closed Oct. 5, and no elective surgeries will be scheduled to allow as many staffers as possible to participate in the readiness training day comprised of four components. The first component, the annual large-scale mass casualty exercise, will be followed by the second part of the training day, comprised of expeditionary training, emergency preparedness demonstrations with static displays, and service-specific training. The training day will also consist of more than 24 readiness education and training classes along five tracks open to all WRNMMC staffers, as well as the fourth component, computer-based instruction such as mandatory Level One Anti-terrorism and Force Protection training which is required annually for all staff.
"The exercise is designed to test the hospital and base response to a radiological incident as well as test the coordination of planning measures between the installation and medical center," explained Chris Gillette, Command Emergency Manager at WRNMMC.
Named "Hekla" after one of Iceland's most active volcanoes, Gillette explained why. "Volcanoes can erupt any time, they lead to mass devastation - much like what we need to plan, train and prepare for [in] a disaster."
While this year's exercise focuses on a radiological event, the majority of readiness training is focused on expeditionary medicine and military support to civil disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic activity or catastrophic weather, according to Air Force Col. Spike Jones, Deputy Commander, Readiness and Operations at WRNMMC.
Gillette said more than 70 staffers will play the roles of disaster victims in the large scale radiological mass casualty exercise slated to involve about 500 others at the hospital as well as Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB). Officials at NSAB will serve as initial responders and work with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, Naval District Washington, the American Red Cross, along with Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRII), based at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services (USUHS), the planned disaster scene.
Slated to begin the morning of Oct. 5 with a disturbance at a USUHS gate, the HEKLA 2012 scenario will move to a crowded ball field at the university and escalate to a disastrous explosion resulting in multiple casualties. The mock radiological disaster will be a first for the installation, explained Michael Robinson, the Antiterrorism Officer and Acting Security Officer at NSAB, who said MASCAL exercises in the recent past included chemical threats or active shooters but did not involve a radiological aspect. Gillette added the mass casualty exercise is the first joint, large-scale exercise for the new installation, and the first since integration of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center, last year.
"HEKLA 2012 is scheduled to be a full-scale exercise," said Jarrod Greene, Emergency Management Specialist for NSAB. "We knew the scope of this exercise was large, and joint planning efforts between Walter Reed, NSA Bethesda, AFRRI, Montgomery County and our other partners would be paramount to the successful execution of the exercise. With the many moving pieces, planning had to be collaborative and risk-driving in order to ensure the objectives and intent of the command could be met and training would be tough and realistic for the participants. Joint incident planning provides us the flexibility to share resources and ideas in a professional setting while meeting required benchmarks and goals across a broad spectrum."
In the second part of the Oct. 5 training day activities, staffers can tour several stationary displays located along Wood Road, outside of the Tower (Bldg.1), from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The exhibit will include the medical center's new, 25-bed rapid response shelter, a portable decontamination shelter, a Patient Evacuation Vehicle, which transports Wounded Warriors, and the Incident Command Vehicle, which provides control support for deployed military treatment resources. In addition, the Bethesda Hospitals' Emergency Preparedness Partnership will conduct research project demonstrations at the site. The emergency preparedness capabilities demonstration will also serve as a stop for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Preparedness Road Show.
The third portion of activities scheduled for the Oct. 5 training day include more than two dozen classes and lectures along five, professional tracks: medical administration, public health, and nursing, as well as a track for physicians in either behavioral health, medicine or surgery, and a track for enlisted personnel, Jones explained. He said the classes are open to all staffers and poster boards listing class information will be displayed throughout Buildings 9 and 10. "Just show up and be prepared to participate in panel discussions, presentations and various information booths," Jones encouraged staffers.
According to John E. Gray III, Acting District Fire Chief for the Naval District of Washington assigned to NSA Bethesda, the most important point about the Oct. 5 exercise is readiness. "An exercise like this allows us to look at some of the response profiles of our fire department not only internally but also externally, and it allows us to work with our mutual aid partners-establish a face-to-face line of communication so that when we're faced with a real-world incident, we're be able to know exactly where the hurdles may be," Gray said.
Ron Kunz, Installation Emergency Manager explained what people should remember for the upcoming exercise. "Although the HEKLA exercise is designed to exercise, test and validate the hospital and installation plans, instructions and training, the most important take away is that it all begins with individual preparedness," said Kunz. "Visit www.ready.navy.mil or your emergency management office for more information," he said.
"Disasters can happen at any time," said Gillette, who added it's important for staffers to know that everyone has a role. He encouraged staffers to become familiar with the hospital emergency code card most have attached to the back of their staff identification cards. For additional information, staffers can access the medical center's emergency management plan which appears in the list of "quick links" on the intranet.