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Hospital Drill Simulates Hyperbaric Chamber Explosion, Tests Multi-Agency Emergency Preparedness

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On Friday, March 26, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Sarasota County emergency management officials and local first responders (Fire/EMS/Police) participated in a Mass Casualty drill involving a simulated explosion at the hospital.

The disaster drill simulated an accidental explosion in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in the Respiratory Department on 4th floor of the hospital's Waldemere Tower. The exercise, which included “mock victims” in make-up and Hollywood-like special effects, tested Sarasota County's multi-agency response and subsequent evacuation, triage and emergency care of more than a dozen severely injured patients, visitors and staff.

The drill was one of the most realistic first responders faced at the hospital – with several fatalities and more than a dozen staff members, patients and visitors with traumatic injuries – third degree burns, impalements and amputations – filling the hospital halls.   

Although many of the injuries simulated were similar to those seen in the Boston Marathon tragedy, the scenario was developed months earlier and based on a real explosion of a hyperbaric chamber last year at an equine rehabilitation center in Ocala that killed the chamber operator and a horse undergoing oxygen therapy.

“The injuries were consistent with what you would see if a highly pressurized chamber of pure oxygen were to explode in the hospital setting,” said Sarasota Memorial Public Safety Chief Mickey Watson. “The special effects were shockingly graphic, but had the intended effect – to raise the intensity and energy level of the drill and test our ability to perform under pressure.”

The drill scenario also simulated extensive structural damage to the hospital, allowing the hospital to “activate” and test its downtime (backup) procedures and operate amid disruptions to power, medical gases, utilities and communication networks across the main campus. It was one of two countywide disaster drills Sarasota Memorial hosts each year and had been planned over the past few months in conjunction with local law enforcement and emergency management officials. 

For additional images and coverage, please follow the links below:
Sarasota Memorial Hospital's facebook page, ABC-7, Herald Tribune/SNN-6
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