Oregon Disaster Medical Team Practices Delivering Medical Care in Extremely Cold Weather

02/05/04    BEND, Ore.

For the first time, ODMT will train with community partners in winter condition

Oregon's beautiful mountain ranges provide the perfect environment for winter disasters such as avalanches and severe storms. The Oregon Disaster Medical Assistance Team (ODMT) wants to be sure it's ready to provide medical care to disaster victims in any type of winter weather condition. Friday, Feb. 6, and Saturday, Feb. 7, nearly 100 people from a variety of local, regional and federal agencies will participate in the Fire & Ice Drill at Mt. Bachelor near Bend (see below for exact location). Together they will create a medical care center out of tents.

The ODMT is a Level I national Disaster Medical Assistance Team of health care providers who volunteer to rapidly respond to disasters around the United States. The nonprofit team consists of more than 100 volunteers from Oregon and southwest Washington. The team plans, trains and responds to provide relief health care services when local, county and mutual aid reserves are overwhelmed due to a mass casualty incident or disaster event. The team is the Disaster Medical Assistance Team representing Oregon in the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). The NDMS now serves under the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Although we're a national team trained to care for patients in all types of environments and situations, we're glad to be here for Oregon," said Helen Miller, M.D., ODMT team leader and pediatric emergency physician at Oregon Health & Science University.

The exercise will give the team a chance to test its equipment, such as special insulation kits for medical care tents, in temperatures as low as 5 to 15 degrees during a 72-hour period. In addition, they will establish radio communications with OHSU in Portland and numerous other hospitals throughout the state where patients may need to be transferred in a real disaster. Volunteer HAM radio operators will provide the communication link.

"We've never set up our tents in the snow or run our generators all night long," said Miller. "This exercise will give us a chance to see how that will work and how to better prepare for issues we might face in a real cold weather disaster."

The event will start on Friday as ODMT, along with disaster medical assistance teams from Washington and Hawaii, sets up six to 10 tents in anticipation of a potential fake volcanic eruption.

Saturday the disaster will further play out as the mock volcanic eruption occurs, causing injuries and isolating the fictional Northwest community from the closest hospital.

About 20 mock patients will mimic hypothermic, severe head injuries and other cold weather injuries. Players in this exercise will not know what to expect until the fake patients present, which is all part of practicing how to handle the unexpected.

One of the most important goals of the weekend will be to establish relationships between more than 10 different agencies from the local to the federal level.

"Meeting each other [disaster responders] for the first time in a disaster is natural, but if we can establish the basics of how to work together before a crisis strikes, that's important," said Miller.

Members of the following agencies are scheduled to participate in the drill:

    Oregon 2 - Disaster Medical Assistance Team
    Washington 1 - Disaster Medical Assistance Team
    Hawaii 1 - Disaster Medical Assistance Team
    Federal Emergency Management Agency
    National Disaster Medical System
    Amateur Radio Emergency Service of Central Oregon
    American Medical Response
    Regional Hospital at OHSU
    Salvation Army
    Washington Task Force 1 - Urban Search and Rescue Team
    U.S. Air Force
    State of Oregon Emergency Management
    Deschutes County

ODMT was formed in 1999 and recognized as a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team in the National Disaster Medical System. Team members live in all parts of Oregon, including Bend, Summer Lake, Crescent Lake, Eugene, Salem and Portland.