Hamilton County's EMS director: Triage system effective during recent storms

Hamilton County's EMS director: Triage system effective during recent storms

May 12th, 2012 by Mariann Martin in News

A new onsite method of dealing with injured during a disaster -- implemented after last year's tornadoes -- proved to be effective during the March tornadoes, according to Hamilton County's EMS director.

After last year's disaster, when storm survivors flooded emergency rooms in area hospitals, officials decided it would be more effective to set up an injury triage system in the area of the disaster, said Tony Reavely, head of the EMS.

Speaking this week at Erlanger Health System's Trauma Symposium, Reavely said that, as part of the change, three trauma surgeons -- two from Erlanger and one from Memorial Health Care System -- went to the scene when an EF3 tornado hit the Harrison Bay area on March 2. As injured people were brought out of the storm-damaged area, the doctors decided whether they needed to be sent to hospitals or simply treated at the scene.

"We think it worked really well," Reavely said.

Only six people were transported to hospitals during March 2, compared to 152 transported by Hamilton County EMS the day of the April 27 storms.

Several sessions during the symposium on lessons learned during the response to the April 2011 storms.

While the scope of the disaster was much smaller on March 2, Reavely said the numbers show the new triaging system helped reduce the number of people taken to hospitals who didn't need emergency room treatment.

"The doctors were able to say they just needed a bandage instead of transport," Reavely said.

The new triage plan will be implemented during any mass casualty situation, Reavely said.

Hamilton County EMS services have also learned to expand their contacts so they will have more options for mutual aid during a disaster, Reavely said. In the past, the service depended on help from North Georgia counties and Bradley County. April 27, when those counties also had tornadoes, showed they needed to work with other counties, he said.

The April 27 disaster has changed Hamilton County response systems in smaller ways, Reavely said, noting that responders now stock the emergency response center with cell phone chargers because many people will be at the center for long periods of time.

Another speaker at the symposium, Dr. Eric Frykberg, chief of the division of general surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said the key to any disaster response is thinking ahead and having a plan in place.

EMS and hospital teams need to have several communication systems in place and to know who will implement mass casualty triaging, Frykberg said.

But officials also need to realize that landlines and cell phones usually do not work well during a disaster.

"You will be on your own, so you need to be prepared for that," Frykberg said.