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Terrorist attack tests hospitals' ability to respond to mass casualties

A ‘patient’ coughs repeatedly as she’s triaged outside the Emergency Department at Valley Medical Center in Renton Wednesday during a regionwide test of medical response to a terrorist attack. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
A ‘patient’ coughs repeatedly as she’s triaged outside the Emergency Department at Valley Medical Center in Renton Wednesday during a regionwide test of medical response to a terrorist attack.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

The dead and wounded flowed steadily into Valley Medical Center’s ER Wednesday morning, the “victims” of a terrorist attack in Seattle and gunfire at Southcenter and at Renton’s Wal-Mart.

The countywide exercise, coordinated by the King County Health Care Coalition and Harborview Medical Center, was designed to test how well hospitals would work together to triage victims of a major incident.

“We are testing the hospital’s surge capacity in a mass-casualty event,” said Kim Blakeley, a spokeswoman for Valley Medical Center.

Seattle hospitals participated in the exercise as did suburban ones, including Highline Hospital and Auburn Regional Medical Center. Valley Med coordinated with them the “transport” of victims to their emergency rooms, as part of the exercise.

Starting at about 9 a.m. Wednesday, the 40 or so victims, portrayed by actors, began arriving at Valley’s emergency room, brought there mostly by ambulance. Tri-Med Ambulance supported the effort, Blakeley said.

The actors were made up with realistic wounds or ailments – one had a constant cough – and had a story to tell the admitting staff members who decided how best to treat each of the patients.

Watching over the exercise were observers who assessed how well the staff was doing and where improvements could be made.

Blakeley said there was some confusion when a woman was brought in carrying a dead baby.

“It shows where there are points of confusion,” she said. “That’s why these are important.”

Even Valley’s clinics were involved.

Four clinics – Newcastle, Auburn, Lake Sawyer and the billing office on Lind Avenue in Renton – had to search for a bomb planted as part of the exercise. By the first check-in at 9:30 a.m., staff at Newcastle and Auburn had found theirs.

 

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