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Portable hospital drill prepares health officials for emergencies
Flowery Branch High School students take a moment to check out a medical mannequin on loan from the Medical College of Georgia. The students volunteered as part of a full-scale emergency disaster drill Monday morning at the Georgia Mountains Center.

After getting their orders, crews quickly began setting up a portable hospital Monday morning.

Staff set up triage areas and hospital beds, patients lined up and emergency workers began responding to a pandemic flu outbreak.

The equipment set up inside the Georgia Mountains Center was the real thing, but Monday’s exercise was only a drill.

"We take an all-hazards approach to planning," said Kevin Matson, the drill’s incident commander from Northeast Georgia Medical Center. "If we can handle the pandemic flu, then we can handle things like a tornado and other emergencies."

And though the exercise was just for practice, portable hospital equipment has been used in Georgia for more than drills.

"We haven’t had to use (a portable hospital) in our district," said Dave Palmer, Public Health District 2 spokesman. "But they did have to use one in Albany for about three months after Sumter Regional Hospital was struck by a tornado."

The Georgia Department of Community Health owns eight of the units — which contain tents, generators and other items required to operate a fully-functioning
hospital. Each can accommodate about 50 patients and can be set up inside or outdoors.

Crews only set up a single hospital wing Monday since setting up the full hospital would’ve taken about eight hours to complete, Palmer said.

Flowery Branch High School students acted as patients, and were each given specific "victim cards" so staff could get experience running through various scenarios.

Medical mannequins also were used and had specific emergencies. They were programmed for either a stroke or heart attack and allowed staff to practice responding to emergencies not related to the flu drill. The mannequins — which had active pulses and were "breathing"— also allowed practice in administering CPR and IVs, something not practiced on "real" patients.

"Just because it’s a tornado — or the pandemic flu — that doesn’t mean that our community stops having heart attacks or strokes," Matson said. "Even during a disaster, we have to be prepared to handle (regular) clinical emergencies."

The medical center, Public Health District 2 and Hall County Emergency Management Agency all participated in the exercise.

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