By Mallory Bateman
As winter weather created power outages in Provo and water from a broken pipe buried back-up generators, administrators were forced to evacuate the hospital.
Although this was only a drill at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center on Thursday, the scenario represents one of many possible disasters.
The hospital performs many drills each year that simulate disasters in the community, but a drill for an internal emergency, in which patients must be evacuated, was done for the first time Thursday morning.
Emergency Management Coordinator Robin Ebmeyer said a group from IHC traveled to the New Orleans area a year after Hurricane Katrina to visit hospitals that were evacuated and listen to the people talk about their experiences.
“My purpose in going was that Utah Valley itself is vulnerable for flooding,” Ebmeyer said. “The hospital sits near and around a river bed, plus there are dams up the canyon” that could burst and flood downstream.
The obvious vulnerabilities in Utah County are what prompted Ebmeyer to go to New Orleans, she said. Although Thursday”s scenario didn”t involve flooding, the point was to practice evacuating patients, she said.
“We came back and decided that we needed to do lots of preparation and should be practicing how to evacuate,” Ebmeyer said.
Hospital administrators have been practicing an incident command center for several years, but its still becoming more refined, she said. Firemen have been using it for a long time, but the command center is still new for Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
“We”ve been sending administrators and staff to Alabama to participate in drills held at an evacuated hospital,” Ebmeyer said. “It has helped, and we are still learning each time.”
All patient care areas were evacuated, which included the seven-floor east tower that handles intensive care patients, she said. All but the outpatient areas of the 395-bed hospital participated in the drill, Ebmeyer said.
Administrators placed people throughout the hospital to observe the events and take notes, which Ebmeyer will compile into a report.
“There were many pages, but I don”t look at it as negative,” she said. “This way we can fix things before they actually happen and next year we will revisit the scenario and see if we can do better.”
The hospital, which is usually filled to 80 percent of its capacity, constructed the evacuation plan so all staff were involved.
“Support people who don”t directly care for patients will go to the manpower pool and help wherever they are needed,” media manager Janet Frank said.
In a real emergency, patients would be transported to various hospitals within Utah County first until those locations are exhausted, Frank said. The hospital would then look to Salt Lake County and BYU if needed.
“We would utilize BYU if needed because they have buildings that could hold hundreds of people,” Frank said.