More than 100 Missouri healthcare professionals traveled to Anniston, Ala., the week of Oct. 18, to take on the challenge of training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) and participate in the Integrated Capstone Event (ICE).

The students took one of three classes, based on their disciplines: 58 took the Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents (HCL); 27 took the Hospital Emergency Response Training for Mass Casualty Incidents (HERT); and 27 took the Emergency Medical Operations for CBRNE Incidents (EMO). Then, on Friday, all of the students participated in the ICE, a hands-on mass casualty response exercise, in which students from several courses take the leadership roles to handle the response to a catastrophic event.

"The opportunity [to train at the CDP] allowed us to learn together in the classroom and apply our collective knowledge in the integrated exercise," said HCL student, Jackie Gatz, the director of Emergency Management and Safety for the Missouri Hospital Association. Gatz had attended a previous CDP course in 2008 at which 50 Missouri responders attended one class. Based on her experience then, Gatz decided to coordinate this training event.

"Recalling the success of our 2008 training, when I learned of the Integrated Capstone Event – an opportunity to bring together a larger group for more extensive training – I was immediately interested," Gatz said.

During the week, the students were divided into their individual courses. Dr. Courtney Schellpeper, an emergency medicine physician at Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo., opted for HERT, her first CDP course.

"I don't think there is anything that can completely prepare a team to handle a mass casualty incident with 100 percent ease, but as the saying goes, ‘Practice makes perfect'," she said. "The CDP training was just that: A practice run for the real deal. I think all the members of the team I attended the course with would agree that the training I received will help prepare us for further trial runs at our own hospitals, as well as for an actual mass casualty incident, should one occur."

Schellpeper said that because of her geographic location, she is most concerned with weather-related incidents like the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., in 2011, or the one that hit Oklahoma City in 2013. Also concerned about incidents involving large gatherings, Schellpeper, a Kansas City Royals fan, pointed out that Missouri students were training at the CDP while the Royals were competing in the post-season games for the American League pennant.

On Friday, the students learned what it's like to respond to a mass casualty incident. With the individual courses completed, all of the students participated in the ICE, a mass casualty event in which "injured" role players and human patient simulators were the survivors the students had to triage, transport and treat in the midst of a chaotic situation that was still unfolding.

The ICE took place in and near the Noble Training Facility, the only hospital in the nation dedicated solely to training. The facility includes an emergency department, emergency operations center, ICU, isolation wards, etc. The responders trained as if they were staff members in a real hospital, responding to the large influx of patients in a very short timeframe. The training tied into real-world events that hospital staffs might encounter, such as earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Other Missouri students are also concerned about weather-related disasters, among others, in their own communities.

Kelly Pearce, the vice president for Operations at SSM Health St. Clare Hospital in Fenton, Mo., just outside of St. Louis, took HCL that week. He's concerned with responding to disasters and incidents such as tornadoes, ice storms, pandemic events and active-shooter incidents.

"The training provided better clarity around where to focus our mitigation and prevention resources," Pearce said. "It also helped me better understand the local, regional and Federal resources available in a disaster and how to access those resources."

Pearce said the networking opportunities and camaraderie were tremendously rewarding, especially because most of the students were from Missouri.

Michael Dawson, the EMS operations manager at CoxHealth in Springfield, Mo., took the EMO course that week. He, too, is concerned with response to tornadoes and ice storms, as well as earthquakes, considering that Springfield is near the New Madrid Fault line.

"[This training] helped mostly to reorganize my thoughts on patient tracking and transport," Dawson said.

Gatz also mentioned her concern about a seismic event.

"Looking at our statewide Hazard Vulnerability Analysis, I am most concerned with the catastrophic occurrence of a New Madrid Seismic Zone event," she said. "This training assisted in providing participants with the tools and resources necessary to lead their organizations in a successful response.

"I must commend the CDP for securing such a phenomenal cadre of instructors to deliver their courses – professional, engaging and experienced!" Gatz said.

Dawson, too, enjoyed his time training at the CDP. "Awesome facility! Very organized! And, great food!"