Emergency responders and incident managers are continually preparing, reviewing policies and training for potential hazards that could one day affect their community.

Approximately 80 healthcare and emergency responder professionals from Kentucky completed week-long courses at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala. These professionals represented more than 30 different hospitals and organizations stretching across eight of the 13 regional coalitions of Kentucky.

“They are not all hospital people,” said Dick Bartlett, emergency preparedness and trauma coordinator for the Kentucky Hospital Association. “Some are health department, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, poison control center staff, floor nurses, patient care managers, emergency preparedness staff, emergency department managers and even maintenance staff. It is a very diverse group.”

Bartlett began coordinating the large-scale exercise a year ago after the recommendation from colleagues from another state. In April 2013 more than 140 emergency managers, physicians, nurses, public health officials and emergency medical staff from Pennsylvania attended CDP courses.

“I used the testimonials from the Pennsylvania group and sent them out to people across Kentucky as part of my proposal,” said Bartlett.

The students’ training culminated today with an Integrated Capstone Event (ICE) that brought several CDP classes together in an exercise. The ICE is designed to train students from the various emergency response disciplines in an all-hazard, mass casualty scenario, requiring a multi-disciplined response. Each scenario focuses on the foundations of CDP training—incident management, mass casualty response and emergency response to a catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist act.

Communication plays a major role in coordinating the participation of students from three courses in a single large-scale exercise. But for this ICE, the CDP included students in taking classes more than 700 miles away. For the first time, students attending Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Md., played a pivotal role in the CDP’s ICE. EMI students acted as the county emergency operations center staff during the ICE. To coordinate the multi-state exercise, CDP staff worked with EMI staff by establishing multiple forms of communication.

“This coordinated exercise has been in the works for months,” said Mallory Lowe, lead ICE developer at the CDP. “It takes a lot of effort to get communication and planning together.”

“We will have [video teleconference] up and running so students will be able to provide briefings to the mayor from a county that will be played at EMI,” said Lowe. “We have telephones, Adobe Connect, internal radios and WebEOC. Students will be able to monitor the real-time emergency information just by logging in.”

The coordination between CDP and EMI came about as a proposed potential need for communities.

“CDP focuses on the response capabilities,” said Lowe.

Both EMI and the CDP teach emergency response techniques. The CDP teaches the field response and EMI teaches incident command. By tying the two entities together, the two centers can cover all the bases needed for a community emergency response, Lowe explained.

The Kentuckians attended one of three CDP courses, based on the disciplines in which they work: The students enrolled in either Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents (HCL), Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT), and Emergency Medical Operations for Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, Radiological, and Explosive (EMO) courses. All three courses were held at Noble Training Facility (NTF), the only hospital in the nation solely dedicated to training healthcare professionals for mass casualty response.

“We are using a building for its intended purpose,” said Sharon Berry, hospital safety officer for University of Kentucky HealthCare. “For training and practice, we get to use a real hospital. I heard from previous students that the training was great and that we actually get to practice in a real hospital. It has lived up to my expectations.”

After three days of training in their respective classes, the students put their skills to the test during the ICE.

“It takes all three groups to work together,” said Berry. “In an event, we would be doing our small role but this training shows us how to do it and interact with other organizations.”

Throughout the training week, the students came together to discuss a game plan and how each will approach a possible mass casualty incident. All of the students are exposed to multiple emergency response and receiver disciplines and are able to see the big picture, said Berry.

“The process seems overwhelming at first, but I know it will work out,” said Monica Appleget, a registered nurse at Clark Regional Medical Center. “We had a meeting with the other courses and we all seem to have good plans in place for a mass casualty incident.”

The realism of the scenarios is solidified by the use of role player actors, patient simulators and state-of-the-art equipment. The role player actors will be dressed with moulage simulating serious wounds and injuries.

“It gets our adrenaline going but not to the point where we are worried about harming a real patient,” said Berry. “The more real it is, the more likely we are to respond.”

“This is better than getting a manikin with an information card,” said Berry. “We can ask questions and based on their responses, we can make decisions.”

Dealing with a mass casualty incident during the ICE, the students are thrown into a frenzied, yet controlled environment where they are assessed on their abilities to be decisive and solve problems.

“You can’t have an exercise like this without good communication,” said Appleget. “It would just be chaos, which it will be during the exercise, but hopefully a controlled chaos.”

In a real emergency, the medical staff is situated at a moment’s notice to deal with a critical situation. Being flexible and dealing with the chaos of the situation is part of the ICE.

“It puts us in roles we might not traditionally be in, which could happen in a real event,” said Berry. “They put us outside our comfort zone but that is a good thing.”

The CDP plays a leading role in preparing state, local and tribal responders to prepare for and respond to manmade events or major accidents involving mass casualties. CDP training is fully funded for tribal, state, and local response personnel. Round-trip air and ground transportation, lodging, and meals are provided at no cost to responders or their agency or jurisdiction. Federal personnel may also attend the numerous training programs offered at CDP. To learn more about the Center for Domestic Preparedness, visit http://cdp.dhs.gov or call 866-213-9553 or to learn more about the VHA visit http://www.va.gov. You can also visit the CDP on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn