SLMC partners with National Guard, law enforcement for hazmat training

GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis

A South Lincoln Medical Center professional dons a hazmat suit at the mock Hazmat emergency training on Wednesday, Feb. 20. The hospital partnered with the National Guard and local law enforcement agencies to conduct the training.

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, South Lincoln Medical Center worked with local emergency response teams and law enforcement agencies to conduct a mock hazmat emergency training.

Although the “emergency” was staged, hospital staff, EMS professionals and local police officers worked diligently to transport and treat “victims” and create a secure environment at the hospital, including an incident command post. The mock scenario consisted of a vehicle crash between locals and a truck carrying hazardous material.

The hospital staff also coordinated with the National Guard’s 84th Civil Support Team to conduct the training. South Lincoln Medical Center CEO Karl Sundberg said the hospital was “lucky” to work with the civil support team. 

He views the training as a big step in ensuring the hospital is prepared for disasters that could drastically increase the number of local patients needing medical care. 

“The reality is that there’s a lot of industry in our area, and we also have hazmat materials that are transported in and out of the community,” Sundberg said. “These scenarios we practice for are realistic, so if they happen, we’ll be ready.”

One benefit of these trainings, according to Sundberg, is to promote “tighter integration” among the community’s emergency response teams. He also cited natural disasters and high-casualty incidents like mass shootings as situations the hospital needed to prepare for. 

“It’s important that the community knows that the hospital, fire department and police are ready for these potential emergencies,” Sundberg said. “We do trainings like this because (the agencies) need to know how to communicate with the public and with one another.”

The CEO said that if a biological emergency were to ever actually happen, the National Guard would be able to provide federal support at the local level.

“My understanding is that the last time we did this big of a training involving all the agencies was 20 years ago,” Sundberg said.

Sundberg said this training required about four months of preparation.

“It was our first big one in a long time, so next time it should only take about a solid month of preparation and coordination,” Sundberg said.

Sundberg acknowledged that a situation like a hazmat emergency would likely create a level of panic in the community. Hospital staff would have to play both the role of medical professionals and communicators.

“We would focus on care of the patients first,” Sundberg said, acknowledging that locals and loved ones would want to know the status of their friends and relatives in an emergency situation. “We would still give information to the public, but that comes second to the well-being of the hospital patients.”

The hospital has invested in online tools to communicate with employees and residents on their mobile phones.

“We definitely want to implement these types of trainings more regularly,” Sundberg said. “These situations happen, and our systems have to be tested so we can see what we need to improve on before an actual emergency.”