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Inside the Texas Catastrophic Medical Operations Center: An Interview with Lori Upton

Author: by Lori Upton, RN, BSN, MS, CEM, Director of Preparedness, Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
Published Date: 1/31/2018 10:30:00 AM
Category: Hospital Preparedness; Response & Recovery; Public Health Preparedness;

During Hurricane Harvey, SETRAC’s Catastrophic Medical Operations Center, or CMOC, acted as a clearinghouse – overseeing information management, brokering requests for assistance and supplies, coordinating patient movement, and providing situational awareness across emergency response disciplines. We spoke with Upton to learn more about the CMOC’s structure and day-to-day functions.

Q: How many members are in the Catastrophic Medical Operations Center?
A: A fully staffed CMOC has 13 members. During Harvey we expanded the CMOC to include two air medical coordinators. We also had field personnel in staging areas.

Q: What are the lead roles in the CMOC? What disciplines do they come from?
A: The four lead roles are Chief, Clinical Director, Transportation Coordinator, and Logistics Supervisor. They come from our staff, hospital, or EMS personnel that have been trained to that leadership level. The "back row" coordinators are staffed by hospital partners on a rotating basis. Each hospital facility is assigned a day of the month they are responsible for providing two trained personnel to staff a 24-hour shift.

Q: Are these full-time roles?
A: None of the members are full time, but our staff maintains a 24/7 Duty Officer daily.

Q: How are the varied roles assigned?
A: When people are assigned to the CMOC, they are coming as a regional asset – not as a representative of their respective facilities or agencies – and they lose their normal identities while they staff the CMOC. An EMS partner, for example, may assume the role of Transportation Sector or Ambulance Staging Manager. A nurse from a hospital may assume the regional role of Corridor Coordinator or Clinical Director.

Q: Are the members of the CMOC co-located during the emergency?
A: Yes, the CMOC is housed in the City of Houston Emergency Operations Center. We have secondary and tertiary backup locations in Harris County and Fort Bend County.

Q: How do you ensure that the CMOC maintains essential services like electricity and communications during a disaster?
A: The hosting jurisdiction takes care of this, but in the event we should lose essential services, we have a mobile command vehicle we can utilize for CMOC operations. We have also outfitted the City of Houston Emergency Operations Center and the Harris County Emergency Operations Center with a satellite dish to ensure connectivity.

Q: What advice do you have for other coalitions to help them during a future disaster?
A: Build relationships, demonstrate your worth incrementally, and deliver what you promise because you will only get one chance.

To learn more about SETRAC’s response during Hurricane Harvey, check out Responding to Harvey: How a Houston-area healthcare coalition modeled success.


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