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To enhance preparedness and ensure staff members understand their role in the event of a disaster, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) conducted a Mass Casualty Exercise on Tuesday.

The exercise was a collaboration of more than 500 personnel throughout the medical center, along with hospitals and agencies within the community, such as Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine in Bethesda, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, explained Chris Gillette, emergency manager for WRNMMC.

“We have to be ready at any time, at any hour, regardless of what the climate is, to respond to any type of emergency,” Gillette said. “It gave us an opportunity to test our mass casualty plan, and how we can prepare for an immediate surge of patients exposed to all types of dangers.”

The exercise focused on responding to a scenario, in which there was a mass shooting and a mass explosion, within the community, resulting in multiple mass casualties arriving at WRNMMC, Gillette continued. As a result, the medical center activated Code Green, an emergency code indicating a mass casualty.

Roughly 50 nursing students volunteered to act as “victims,” surging the Emergency Department in their tattered clothing and moulaged make-up. Approximately 19 of those volunteers were sent to area hospitals, including Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, which was also played out the same scenario. Area hospitals communicated with one another as they would in a real disaster, informing each other of their available resources, Gillette explained.

During the exercise, personnel were quick to set up several locations throughout the medical center where the “victims” were triaged, depending on the severity of their injuries, according to Melissa Knapp, program manager for Emergency Management Plans, Training and Exercises at WRNMMC.

“We train so that we can identify gaps and areas that we need to improve upon,” Knapp said.

Overall, personnel exhibited strong teamwork and problem-solving skills, she continued. There was minimal impact to patient care, and logistical and administrative processes that will need to be worked out, such as adding more radios to certain areas, she said, but that is why training is necessary, to identify any gaps.

“The better we’re prepared to make that transformation from normal operations, to mass casualty receiving operations, the more efficient we’ll become,” Gillette said.

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