DisastersLA-area hospitals prepare for the big quake

Published 20 October 2011

In earthquake-prone California, local hospitals and emergency responders are at hard at work preparing for the next big quake

In earthquake-prone California, local hospitals and emergency responders are at hard at work preparingfor the next big quake.

In 2008 emergency planners predicted that if a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern California, 60 percent of hospital beds in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties would be knocked out of commission.

To allow aid workers to treat the thousands of potentially injured residents during the quake, first responders are developing alternative medical care policies like emergency tents stocked with medical equipment.

Kay Fruhwirth, the head of the LA County Office of Emergency Management, said the number of available beds “is really dependent on the level of impact, but we have plans and we know in general what hospitals can do to meet increased demands for a lot of people who need medical care.”

To that end, Fruhwirth said surge tents would be put in place for initial triage and the sorting out of patients for short-term care. In addition, thirteen hospitals in ten locations throughout the region have Disaster Resource Centers, which are equipped with tent shelters that are capable of housing at least forty patients for the first forty-eight hours after a disaster.

All hospitals do planning for disasters, but these centers have additional supplies and equipment, which can also be moved to the impacted area,” Fruhwirth explained.

Each center is stocked with cots, gurneys, heaters, medical and pharmaceutical supplies, and communication equipment.

Furthermore, local hospitals have made agreements with each other to transfer patients in the event that one becomes badly damaged.

Dennis Jarmin, the assistant administrator at Greater El Monte Hospital which has agreements with seven other hospitals in the area, said his hospital has also made arrangements to temporarily transfer stable patients to skilled nursing facilities to open up more hospital beds at undamaged hospitals.

The county has also purchased two $3.5 million mobile medical systems that Fruhwirth described as “an emergency department on wheels.”

It’s a semi-trailer that has fourteen treatment areas, where we can do initial emergency treatment of patients,” she said.

When combined the two fifty-three foot big rigs can create a mobile medical facility capable of treating 200 people. The mobile vehicles can be deployed within six to eight hours and come fully stocked so doctors can perform surgeries and conduct x-rays, lab work, and ultra sounds.

Aside from additional temporary hospitals and additional beds, Fruhwirth said officials are working with first responders to compensate for damaged roads that make transporting patients and supplies difficult.

In an earthquake, our challenges would be what roads are open and what hospitals need attention,” she said. So first responders now “have plans of where they would set up staging areas, field treatment sites with the goal of always working with us to find out where there is a hospital that can take care of patients and move them to those facilities.”

Don Kunitomi, the LA County fire inspector, said one of the first tasks for emergency responders will be to set up triage centers in quake-stricken areas, where responders will address life-threatening emergencies first.

Our job is take people from the emergency situation and to the emergency room,” Kunitomi said. “We do advanced life support to stabilize the patient to get them to the ER.” 

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