Immediately after a mass casualty incident, the families of the victims, as well as the authorities, often have to make their own decisions about the whereabouts and well-being of their loved ones. Sometimes wandering from one hospital to another looking for them.
Recently, Hackensack Meridian Health participated in a Homeland Security disaster exercise that piloted a new patient locator system to help locate survivors of large numbers of casualties or a terrorist attack.
The exercise was funded by the Urban Areas Secuirty Initiative (UASI), the only federal homeland security grant program that requires regional governance, strategic planning and investments involving all disciplines – law enforcement, services fire, public and medical health, public works, owner and operator critical infrastructure, and emergency management – to acquire the plans, equipment, training and drills necessary to prevent, protect, respond and recover threats and acts of terrorism and other major dangers in high density areas.
The operation involved several Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals in New Jersey, including Hackensack University Medical Center, the network’s flagship hospital; Pascack Valley Medical Center; Palissades Medical Center; JFK University Medical Center; and Raritan Bay Medical Center.
The specific objective of Hackensack Meridian Health was to assess the effectiveness of a beta surveillance system designed to locate patients who have been separated, missing or lost during a major disaster and taken to area hospitals. The concept of the system was inspired by events such as the tragic Paramus East Brook Middle School bus crash in 2018, which left families unable to determine which hospital their child was sent to.
“There is a significant level of anxiety as families frantically search for a missing loved one,” said Jason A. Bhulai, project coordinator, Special Pathogen Emergency Preparedness at Hackensack University Medical Center. “With this new system, we hope to eliminate delays in collecting data on victims, including the status of their injuries and their whereabouts.”
The Department of Patient Care Informatics and the Emergency Preparedness Department at Hackensack University Medical Center were the primary participants in the exercise – in partnership with one of the largest healthcare software networks in the United States which is focusing on population health, public policy and health surveillance – to test this new system.
“Very often, in incidents with large numbers of victims, there are delays in collecting data on people missing or located in health facilities for regroupings and notifications due to lockdowns and / or threats or of continuing dangers, ”said Thomas Callimano, director of emergency preparedness for Hackensack Meridian. Health. “A system like this is essential in helping our communities and law enforcement agencies get the information they need quickly.”
The new system will be used in the Urban Areas Safety Initiative (UASI) region to improve the readiness level of high-risk communities in New Jersey and will integrate with Hackensack Meridian Health’s internal electronic medical record system, thus creating a more effective emergency response tool within the region.