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UNM health workers learn to deal with acts of terror

UNMH personnel treat a patient at the Center for Domestic Preparedness training center in Anniston, Ala. (Courtesy of the Center for Domestic Preparedness)

UNMH personnel treat a patient at the Center for Domestic Preparedness training center in Anniston, Ala. (Courtesy of the Center for Domestic Preparedness)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than 100 University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center workers this week learned how to deal with potential man-made calamities, including and in particular acts of terrorism.

The would-be first responders have been in Anniston, Ala., for training sponsored by a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“We provide the kind of training we hope you’ll never have to use,” said Lisa Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, the agency behind the training and part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

David Groth, a website administrator at the UNM HSC, put it a little differently in a telephone interview Thursday: “We’re getting training to help the community in case of an incident that we hope never comes, the best training we hope we’ll never need.”

The program is the only one in the nation that utilizes civilian exercises in a toxic chemical environment, including nonpathogenic biological materials.

Hands-on exercises enable responders such as emergency room doctors and nurses to react to real-world incidents that involve chemical, biological, explosive or radiological agents or other hazardous materials.

HSC responders likely would be a major part of the state’s first line of defense in the event of an attack or other man-made disaster, intentional or not.

Groth and others participated in a hands-on “capstone” event Friday, one that would result in mass casualties. It might have little to do with his day-to-day job, he said, but as a “floater” he could be called on to help out in any number of areas should an attack or other disaster occur.

One thing Groth didn’t expect before heading to Alabama for the training is that it takes place in “a full-blown hospital,” he said. “It’s the coolest training I’ve ever seen.”

Another HSC staffer, Luke Frank, described the training as “a great experience.” If a disaster were to occur, the training certainly would help him to perform his job as a public information officer facing potential chaos, he said.

Altogether, 148 UNM staffers were involved in four different courses that are not taught in medical school:

  • Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents, 51 students.
  • Hospital Emergency Response for Mass Casualty Incidents, 38 students.
  • Emergency Medical Operations, 34 students.
  • Radiological Emergency Response Operations, 25 students.

The CDP facility in Anniston is unique. It includes the only hospital in the United States dedicated solely to training, a three-story building with an Emergency Department and Emergency Operations Center.

“You can’t close down a hospital in Albuquerque for training, because there are always patients coming in,” Hunter said. “Here, however, we have a solution: We already have a closed-down hospital.”