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As the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) rolls into the next five-year grant cycle (BP1 2017-2022), hospitals are being challenged to exercise and test their surge capabilities.

A required deliverable will be a no-notice exercise that will help healthcare coalitions identify gaps in their surge planning. Tonda Francis, VP Regional Coordination and Clinical Initiatives at The Health Collaborative, explains that “The no-notice concept is intended to efficiently and quickly transition coalitions into ‘disaster mode’ as in a real-world scenario, in order to provide a more realistic picture of readiness than pre-planned exercises might. The exercise is designed to be challenging and is intended to support continuous improvement.”

The Office of the ASPR was created under the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to lead the nation in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters.

ASPR focuses on preparedness planning and response; building federal emergency medical operational capabilities; countermeasures research, advance development, and procurement; and grants to strengthen the capabilities of hospitals and health care systems in public health emergencies and medical disasters. The office provides federal support, including medical professionals, through ASPR’s National Disaster Medical System, to augment state and local capabilities during an emergency or disaster. [Source]

The upcoming surge test scenario involves a simulated evacuation of at least 20 percent of acute care bed capacity. Three facilities will be selected to serve as evacuating facilities, while all others in the region will play the role of recipients. The Health Collaborative, which staffs the regional Disaster Preparedness Coalition (DPC), will offer support and guidance to participating hospitals, and DPC staff will work to ensure the exercise is conducted smoothly.

A two-week window has been set for the exercise to occur: January 8-19, 2018. Hospitals will be provided 60 minutes advance notification and will be required to stand up their Hospital Command Centers (HCC’s).

All tools for the exercise have been developed by ASPR. This will enable comparisons across state lines and in different regions across the country as all hospitals utilize the same scenario and tools. There is no movement of actual patients, and the exercise play will be for 90 minutes only.

Each facility will take 30-45 minutes following the exercise to conduct a “hotwash” (debrief) to determine what went well and what opportunities for improvement exist.

The exercise will evaluate the actions and preparedness of regional healthcare coordination, and its ability to handle a large-scale disaster event in multiple jurisdictions. Communication and transportation will be critical throughout the test.

If you have any questions about the exercise, feel free to contact Tonda Francis, VP Regional Coordination and Clinical Initiatives, at tfrancis@healthcollab.org.