PortaCom Pro from Anchor Audio

Alan Goldstein, a member of the Disaster Preparedness Committee and Director of Audio Visual and Medical Photography at Sherman Oaks Hospital, Sherman Oaks, Calif., traveled to numerous trade shows looking for equipment for his personnel to communicate with while wearing decontaminating apparel.

“We do drills with biohazard suits that are used for decontamination,” Goldstein said. “These are fully contained, including helmets with air being pumped inside. Unless the team is right on top of each other screaming at the top of their lungs, they can’t communicate with each other.”

Goldstein thought there had to be a better way.

“I searched trade shows for a wireless intercom solution and found the PortaCom Pro from Anchor Audio,” he said. “These are now a standard part of our decontamination suits. Before the helmet is put on, the headset and microphone are attached to a belt or pocket and turned on.”

Communicating With Staff

The system has allowed the hospital staff in suits to communicate with their team leaders who may be several hundred feet away, Goldstein says, noting that the team might need to transmit patient information, to notify those inside that patients are ready for treatment or the team needs more help in the decontamination station.

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published an evidence report titled “Training of Hospital Staff to Respond To A Mass Casualty Incident.” It summarized 21 recent studies that range from descriptions of local preparedness drills (including transportation incidents and fires), to a large regional drill involving multiple agencies.

Effective Response

One of the points identified in the research was that internal and external communications are the key to effective disaster response. Eight of the studies illustrated a breakdown of communications, including the inadequacy of overhead intercom systems, a lack of training in the use of radios, and emergency departments becoming overwhelmed and unable to receive messages.

“We had 500 people walk into the emergency room during the Northridge earthquake,” said Sherman Oaks’ Goldstein. “If they had been contaminated with a substance, we would have cleaned them off before allowing them inside to avoid contaminating the workers, doctors and nurses.”

For those situations there is a tent outside Sherman Oaks Hospital where people are showered off and “a means of communication between the tent workers and staff inside the hospital is vital,” Goldstein said.

Hospitals like Sherman Oaks are part of a network of Disaster Resource Centers across the United States that is working to improve overall disaster preparedness.

The U.S. government report on training hospital staff to respond to mass casualty incidents (MCI’s) collected its evidence from studies in many of these hospitals. Some key lessons on communications emerged from the summaries in the report. The report cites that overhead intercom systems may be unreliable during a mass casualty incident at a time when the need for internal communication is critical.

It also stated the presence of a well-defined incident command system reduces confusion during exercises and that important telephone numbers and staff contact information must be updated on a regular basis and readily available in the event of an MCI.

Further, the study suggested staff must be trained in various modes of communications, including effective use of the telephone and radio communications as an effective backup to “land lines.”

Improving Interfaces

For external communications, drills and tabletop exercises may be an effective method of improving interfaces between hospitals and federal, state, and local response agencies, the study reported.

Finally, the report stated the process of decision-making by conference calls can be inefficient and may lead to delays in taking action.

The studies addressed a variety of MCIs. Six were focused on a fire or explosion, seven described transportation accidents, such as a plane crash at a local airport, three studies were centered on a chemical event, two on a radiation event, and one focused on a biological event.

Center Of Response

As observed with the global Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the healthcare delivery system is at the center of the response to an MCI, according to Anchor Audio.

Hospital disaster preparedness has therefore taken on increased importance at local, state, and federal levels. Hospitals themselves are taking renewed interest in disaster pre-paredness and reexamining their disaster plans.

And, according to Anchor Audio, communication is at the heart of successful emergency response in the face of disaster.

For information call 800-262-4671 or go to www.anchoraudio.com.

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