Oregon Disaster Medical Team Promoted to Level 1--the Highest Level

05/06/02    Portland, Ore.

Promotion means more supplies and eligibility for first deployment to a national disaster scene

The Oregon Disaster Medical Team (ODMT) will now be one of the first medical teams nationwide to be activated to provide relief medical care in the event of a national disaster. The National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) has promoted Oregon's Disaster Medical Assistance Team, ODMT, to level 1 status after just three years of service in the nation's emergency medical response system. As a level 1 team, ODMT will receive a federal supply of equipment, and will prepare to respond to major disasters throughout the United States and its territories within eight hours.

"This promotion is a real tribute to the commitment and professionalism of each of our team members. ODMT is clearly recognized as a team that is counted upon to serve nationally," said Helen Miller, M.D., team leader and pediatric emergency physician at Oregon Health & Science University.

"This is a milestone for both the community and the team," said Jon Jui, M.D., M.P.H, deputy team leader and emergency physician at OHSU. "It means the team has risen to the 'top flight' of deployable teams. More importantly, it will provide the team with supplies that can be used when responding to disasters within our state and region."

ODMT is a nonprofit volunteer organization of close to 100 health care providers such as paramedics, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and emergency medical technicians. In 1999 this independent team was recognized as a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team in the NDMS, and when responding to national disasters is referred to as the Oregon Disaster Medical Assistance Team. OHSU is the primary institutional sponsor for the team and supports several of its staff, who are volunteer members.

The team's new level 1 status will provide it with:

  • The opportunity to be one of the first teams deployed to a national disaster.
  • Support for warehouse space to store gear and supplies.
  • An opportunity to apply for federal funding.
  • Additional equipment to set up a field medical station, such as generators, tents and communications gear.
  • Additional medical supplies.
  • In the event of a disaster within Oregon or the region, the team will be prepared with its own equipment and supplies to respond quickly.

"Oregon's team is unique in several ways. Members live in every corner of the state as well as in southwest Washington. We are committed to developing our local as well as our national response.

We welcome members from small communities and from diverse medical specialties, including pediatrics," said Miller.

One of the team's primary missions is to handle urgent and emergent medical issues in the first 72 hours of a disaster, before federal or other agencies can assist. The well-trained team provides relief health care when local or regional systems are overwhelmed due to a mass casualty incident or disaster. This role can include triaging patients, providing field or hospital-based medical care, and preparing patients to be evacuated to outside health care facilities. In addition, as an official volunteer resource of the Oregon Department of Human Services, the team may respond to events such as public health emergencies and bioterrorist activities.

In the past year, Oregon Disaster Medical Team members have served on federal deployments to Tropical Storm Allison in Texas and the Winter Olympic Games in Utah. One of the team's most notable missions was to serve in New York and Washington, D.C., in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. For several weeks, team members provided on-site medical care for rescue and recovery workers at the ground zero/World Trade Center site, intensive nursing care to victims at a New York burn center, treatment to postal workers exposed to anthrax, and administrative support to the Emergency Operations Center near Washington, D.C.

In 2001 ODMT also trained with disaster medical teams from California, Washington and Alaska. Members provided volunteer medical support at the Subaru Gorge Games in Hood River last summer and served on an international medical trip to serve the rural poor in Haiti.

Before joining the team, members must complete federal credentialing and make arrangements with employers and family to drop everything and head to a disaster as soon as their pagers go off. Team members also must obtain specific vaccinations, purchase safety gear and personal equipment, and complete a training program.

The team's next training event will be as a participant in the Portland Metropolitan Medical Response System full-scale exercise on May 7 in Portland. This exercise will test various emergency response systems as they simulate a weapons-of-mass-destruction disaster. Part of the test will include pretending to overwhelm all Portland hospitals with close to 700 injured people.

Additionally, the activation of the National Disaster Medical System will be simulated to evacuate injured people out of the Portland area to other communities for treatment. Members of ODMT will participate at the Portland Air National Guard Base near the Portland Expo incident site, and simulate the triage and evacuation of seriously wounded patients to medical centers outside of Portland. The 36-member ODMT squad will be simulating one of the roles they would play in the event of an actual disaster.

The team consists only of volunteers and currently receives no funding for state and local disaster response. It hopes to gain Oregon business support in order to build local and regional response capacity through a public awareness campaign during the next six months.

"We want Oregonians to know that our team is out there and serves an important role, particularly in local disaster response. Unfortunately, many Oregon businesses and foundations don't realize the significant need for the financial support of this role. One lesson we have learned from our national missions is that all disasters are local, requiring a local response and support. Our team is committed to making a difference in supporting a stronger disaster medical response system right here in Oregon," said Miller.