When Disaster Strikes

November 18, 2011

The Search and Rescue team practices evacuating

patients down a completely dark stairwell with

help of a Med Sled.

When a tornado or earthquake hits a hospital, much of the concern is related to evacuating patients safely yet in a timely and orderly manner. To help prepare for this scenario, Mercy Hospital St. Louis recently conducted a search and rescue/evacuation drill to put its resources to the test.

Although Mercy St. Louis conducts two disaster drills a year, this was the first such drill since the tornado hit Joplin. Some aspects from Joplin were used during the drill such as transporting patients down a completely dark stairwell, using only flashlights and helmet lights.

During the drill, “patients” were assessed and either placed on Med Sleds or in wheelchairs and transported to the scanning team by the Search and Rescue team. Once all rooms were searched, the team worked to lower the patients down two flights of stairs using only the light from their helmets and flashlights.

“In real-life emergencies, our co-workers will be the first on the scene. Our Search and Rescue team will be able to direct others who can help in the process of assessing and evacuating patients,” said Jeff Hamilton, emergency management coordinator with Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “The drills are essential to making sure the team is prepared in case of a true disaster.”

Mercy Hospital St. Louis formed a Search and Rescue Team in 2009, the only hospital-based team in Missouri, to rapidly evacuate patients following damage from a tornado or earthquake. The team is trained to the search and rescue standards of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Emergency Response Teams and integrates with the local fire and EMS services responding to the hospital. The team is equipped with specialized personal protective equipment, uses a unique computer program they developed to guide them through the buildings and uses bar-code tracking designed by Mercy Emergency Management to account for patient movement. 

Each team includes one registered nurse in charge of the team, one registered nurse responsible for patient assessment and three rescue technicians - trained co-workers from the loading dock and warehouse - to physically move patients to safety. A scanning team from admitting uses bar-code tracking to account for patient movement while a control team from construction services uses Mercy’s unique evacuation technology to guide the team through the buildings.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis conducts two disaster drills annually, one of which is with the St. Louis Area Regional Response System. Mercy’s Search and Rescue and Decontamination Teams each have annual drills while the leadership team has quarterly exercises to test their management of various disaster-related scenarios.

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Media Contacts

Bethany Pope
St. Louis, St. Charles
Page: (314) 251-6000