Harris Hospital creates scenario to prepare for tornado disaster

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – If or when a disaster strikes the area, many may wonder how their local hospitals would handle the situation.

At least in one town, it has become standard practice to prepare for the worst.

Harris Hospital in Newport stages a disaster twice a year as part of its hospital preparedness plan.

During the drill Wednesday, the staff chose to practice what they would do if a destructive tornado touched down nearby.

"There's always a potential for disaster whether it be a weather event or otherwise," said Rebecca Pearrow, the director of marketing. "We live near the interstate. There could be a massive vehicular accident. We also are always ready with hazmat in the event of a chemical emergency, lots of different scenarios.

"We just choose a different scenario each time," she said, "so that we do have maximum preparedness."

The scene Wednesday morning looked more like the set of a horror movie in Hollywood.

Staff members applied gory makeup to a few hospital volunteers, who portrayed victims injured during a violent storm.

Rehearsing for such a disaster requires everyone on staff to do his or her part.

Some of the staff began by reporting to a command center after "code orange" blared over the hospital's intercom system, alerting them to a danger outside the facility.

Others prepared for the first responders to soon begin wheeling victims into the emergency room.

"It really is managing chaos," said Dr. Richard Young, the hospital's emergency physician director, "so you have mass casualties and everybody has to do their part and you do the best you can and so the more you practice, the better you get."

The hospital's emergency room is overseen by Dr. Young and Leah Trofort, the hospital's emergency nursing director, who both say drills like the one Wednesday should help reassure the community.

"Our objective is to fine tune and to be prepared," Trofort said. "Given the recent disasters in New York and different areas, we also here at Harris Hospital never know when Newport might also come under such situations, and we need to be prepared for that."

"We're not going to be able to educate everyone with a drill like this," Dr. Young added, "but know that there is a process and you won't necessarily be treated the same way. It'll be the worst first."

Staff also hope that the disaster drills foster teamwork between the hospital and other local agencies that may respond when an emergency arises.

"Without having everybody on board as far as the hospital and the emergency medical services, somewhere a patient's going to fall through the crack," said Deanna Long, the owner of White River EMS in Newport, "and ultimately that's what we're trying to prevent."

The drill concluded Wednesday with a review of the hospital's sustainability plan, which covers how the facility could operate without power before federal help could arrive.

Harris Hospital will now evaluate its response from the recent drill.

Employees will try to evaluate areas to improve before the next drill or before an actual disaster occurs.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.