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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Preparing for the Worst Means Training Like the Best

Author: Ron Miller, Acting Director, National Disaster Medical System, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Published Date: 2/23/2017 10:40:00 AM
Category: Exercises & Trainings; Public Health Preparedness;

NDMS teams train regionally to protect health nationwide when disasters strike

When rain fell in Louisiana last year, the local health care system was flooded with patients.  The state requested the help of medical professionals from National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) – a network of over 5,000 health and medical professionals managed by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). NDMS teams were on the ground in a matter of hours and soon they were providing patient screenings and medical care for displaced residents.

How was NDMS able to deploy and start providing medical care so quickly? Training – and lots of it.

NDMS professionals come from communities across the country. When they aren’t responding to disasters, these people work day-to-day as physicians, registered nurses, paramedics, and other medical and support professionals. When NDMS activates in response to a crisis, these professionals serve as members of NDMS teams – and they are ready to respond within hours of being activated.

To ensure they are ready to answer the call, NDMS teams train in their local communities throughout the year as if they were responding to an actual emergency.

As part of local training, they set up a base of operations like they would use in the field when responding to a disaster. They practice using the supplies and equipment contained within the medical and supply caches – the same caches they would use during real-world responses. Through this training, they learn about the equipment they will have available to treat patients and how to use it.

Working together as a unit – not just as a group of individuals – is a critical part of the success of any NDMS mission. As part of their training, NDMS professionals work with other members of their team from across town or from further away. By practicing as a team before a disaster, they are better equipped to make decisions that help protect health and save lives.

These regional training exercises are a fiscally responsible way of maintaining a ready force capable of helping those affected by large-scale disasters. These trainings are held close to the places where the NDMS members live and work.

During this training, NDMS members experience realistic scenarios and participate in hands-on mass casualty exercises in which actors and sophisticated patient simulators (“dummies”) are the disaster survivors that NDMS members triage and treat.

These exercises are just part of the training ASPR arranges for NDMS members each year to keep their skills honed. ASPR also has developed training for NDMS members at the nation’s premiere all-hazards training facility, the Center for Domestic Preparedness operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Even the states and local government agencies with the best plans and the most dedicated staff can get overwhelmed in a disaster. When that happens, NDMS is there to help. Because of the training that NDMS professionals receive, they are ready to respond to the unique challenges of a disaster and protect health when seconds count. 


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