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If a mass casualty incident occurred at Walter Reed Bethesda or out in the community, would you know what to do?

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) wants to ensure staff members understand their role in the event of a disaster, resulting in multiple casualties. WRNMMC will test its medical readiness with a Mass Casualty Exercise on March 18. The exercise will also take place in collaboration with several agencies in the region. This provides an opportunity to enhance partnerships between other hospitals and agencies within the community such as Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda.

“It’s important we conduct this exercise to maintain continuous readiness to any all-hazards emergency or incidents impacting our hospital and surrounding community,” said Chris Gillette, emergency manager for WRNMMC.

During Tuesday’s exercise, WRNMMC will activate Code Green, its emergency code indicating a mass casualty, Gillette explained. The medical center will act accordingly as though a disaster has struck the community. Approximately 20 to 40 moulaged staff members will play “victims” and will “surge” the Emergency Department (ED), he said. Other hospitals in the area will be playing out the same scenario, and area hospitals will communicate with one another as they would in a real disaster, informing each other of their available resources, he said.

In a real-life mass casualty, either on base or out in the community, Gillette explained hospitals are viewed as a “safe haven” and victims would likely flock to the medical center. To avoid inundating ED staff with casualties, victims would be triaged to various locations within the medical center, depending on the severity of their injuries, he said.

The exercise will allow staff to test their response efforts in such a scenario, staging triage locations, moving “victims” to casualty receiving stations and ensuring those areas are equipped with necessary supplies, such as radios for communication and vests to identify their role, said Melissa Knapp, program manager for Emergency Management Plans, Training and Exercises at WRNMMC.

On Tuesday, staff and patients can expect to see “victims” being transported to the ED and throughout the medical center. Several patients will arrive by ambulance, but without lights and sirens, Knapp said. Most importantly, the exercise will have minimal impact to patient care. In a real-life scenario, as per the hospital’s emergency management plans, hospital operations would still be expected to continue, or at least initially, depending on the disaster’s severity, she added.

“People still have a job to do, and emergency management is here to support them and their abilities to continue normal operations,” Knapp said.

She also noted, though the Joint Commission requires WRNMMC to conduct a minimum of two annual training exercises, the medical center conducts far more throughout the year, continuously enhancing readiness and response efforts.