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SMH Construction Disaster Drill Tests Emergency Preparedness

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overhead shotSARASOTA - Dozens of hospital, police, fire and emergency rescue workers participated in a disaster preparedness drill Wednesday, testing their abilities to work quickly and effectively to secure the site of a mass casualty construction accident and rescue dozens of mock victims trapped in the debris.

The staged disaster began shortly after 9 am, when a 250-ton crane supposedly sank into grounds saturated by heavy rains and fell into the skeletal framework of the new Courtyard Tower, a 9-story patient care tower under construction at the hospital’s main campus.

Local fire and emergency medical workers responded to a mock 2-alarm rescue call and worked with the hospital’s public safety and medical team to secure the site and search for and rescue construction workers missing in the rubble. In the drill scenario, the crane also “crashed” into the hospital’s East Tower, injuring patients and staff and rendering the entire wing unsafe.

Sarasota Memorial tested its nursing and support staff’s ability to quickly evacuate patients from the unstable wing of the hospital to a safer location to continue their care. Power to the elevators was “disabled” during the drill, and staff practiced transporting “mock” patient volunteers from floor to floor and wing to wing using “stair chairs” and “med slides.”

Meanwhile, staff not participating in the drill continued to care for patients with real-life medical issues and emergencies.

“Disaster preparedness is taken very seriously here at Sarasota Memorial,” said Mickey Watson, the hospital’s Chief of Public Safety. “We hold drills throughout the year — both major and pic2minor – to help our staff prepare for worst-case scenario situations like hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters. We’re a 24/7 operation, so we need to be in a state of constant readiness to ensure continued care for our patients, regardless of what’s going on around us.” Wednesday’s drill was the first to test the hospital’s general contractor Skanska Corporation’s ability to evacuate the construction site and account for all of its workers. The actual evacuation of about 80 construction workers took less than 4 minutes, and emergency officials praised the hospital and construction team for a safe, coordinated response.

While the drill was intended to test the hospital’s internal emergency management procedures, it also allowed them to practice vital inter-agency coordination and communication that would be necessary should a real mass casualty disaster occur.

“It was a great exercise,” said Ed McCrane, Emergency Management Chief for Sarasota County. “Every time we partner in disaster drills of this size and scope, we become better prepared as a public health and safety consortium to manage a real world event. This drill was especially meaningful considering what’s happening in Japan, and a poignant reminder that if disaster were to strike here, we’d all be here for each other.”

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Kim Savage, 941-917-6271

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