Although we’d like to think disasters only happen in other places, they don’t. They can happen anywhere and they happen frequently, be it a shooter or natural disaster. And that’s why Mercy is using technology in new ways to ensure people are safely evacuated in the event of an emergency.
“We are the only hospital in the country that can provide police, fire and emergency personnel with an instantaneous electronic 2D map of any Mercy facility,” said Jeff Hamilton, emergency management coordinator at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri. “We can also send live video feeds to crews en route to an emergency.”
For emergency crews, the quicker they have detailed information at hand, the better chance of saving time and lives. “If there was a major fire, explosion or earthquake, this technology would be priceless,” said Terry Scholl, deputy chief of Creve Couer Fire Protection District in Missouri. “It gives us live data showing where utilities run and where shut off valves and control panels are located. Every fire truck is equipped with computers that can immediately access this information.”
Universally used in building design, Mercy is applying computer-aided design, also known as CAD, in an innovative way in order to provide critical details in the event of a hostage situation or a structure collapse due to an ice storm or earthquake. In fact, the impetus arose in 2008 after a lab technician was taken hostage and fatally shot by an ex-boyfriend at a Mercy urgent care center in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Here we were at work where no one thinks anything horrible could happen, and it was happening,” said Hamilton. “I knew there had to be a way to assist the police, but we couldn’t get to the information quick enough. Now we can immediately give a computerized bird’s eye view of everything in the building. We can show emergency crews exactly what’s behind a wall. If the scenario involves a shooter, police need to know where oxygen lines are in the wall so they don’t shoot a line and cause an explosion.”
Without CAD applied in this way, emergency crews are handicapped because they can’t readily see the complexities of a building. In addition, CAD gives Mercy and emergency crews a computerized and systemized approach to evacuating buildings.
According to a 2009 Prehospital and Disaster Medicine study, only 5 percent of hospitals have an evacuation plan. By using CAD, Mercy can easily track which rooms have been evacuated and number of evacuees so rescue personnel won’t blindly enter dangerous situations.
“We’re the eyes above mapping out the safest route in and out of our facilities while the emergency crews are on the ground,” said Simon Plowman, Mercy’s CAD manager. “In the event of an earthquake, which isn’t so farfetched being that St. Louis sits on the most active seismic zone east of the Rockies, emergency crews would have the tools to search through the rubble. We are leading the pack with the way we are using this technology in crisis situations.”
With 28 hospitals, 36,000 co-workers and more than 200 facilities across a four-state area, more than half of the Sisters of Mercy facilities are completely mapped with CAD. A team of AutoCAD technicians is currently working to ensure blueprints for all Mercy buildings are electronically accessible in the event of an emergency.