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WakeMed Emergency Operations Center plans for disasters

WakeMed's Emergency Services Operation Center is the only one of its kind along the East Coast. The center is among a few in the entire country.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — When an explosion ripped a hole in the roof of Garner's ConAgra plant in June 2009, dozens were injured and several killed.

Within minutes, WakeMed Hospital was tested.

“We were seeing real patients who were seriously injured, who were coming in because we have a Level 1 trauma center,” WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson said recently. “We were seeing most of those patients.”

Atkinson said the reaction of the staff throughout the hospital was remarkable, yet expected.

“The organization had the ability to do 100 percent of the routine operation under a true disaster ramp-up. We didn’t miss a beat. In a pre-9/11 world we could have,” he said.

Driving by the main campus in Raleigh, WakeMed looks like any other major hospital with a helicopter pad, emergency room, heart wing and children’s section.

Yet, there is more. A few miles away is the hospital’s advanced Emergency Services Operation Center, the only one of its kind along the East Coast. 

Throughout the steel-and-concrete fortress are video walls, teleconferencing centers, computers and a system to bring people together or to a major disaster site within minutes.

“We would designate by code language where we wanted people to be,” Atkinson said.

All of the data is backed up with a fail-safe system in house. Several protected generators are outside to keep things moving. There is also a railroad spur to bring in fuel or food.

All of the equipment, which includes a mobile communication unit, is designed to help in a catastrophe.

Atkinson said the center is one of a few in the country. The other locations are secret.

“When you talk about health care reform, we live it every day. We’re not waiting for someone else to define it. We’re defining it, and I think this I a pretty good example of what it looks like,” Atkinson said.

To some, the center might look like overkill – something needed in Washington D.C. , or New York. But Atkinson points out events like Hurricane Katrina, which left some Gulf Coast hospitals without power and with no way to move patients.

“If you had to evacuate, we have that capability,” he said.

Atkinson said he knows there will be more tornados, storms and other events.

“It could be a pandemic event, a weather-related event. It could be around civil unrest,” he said.

Whatever the event, he wants WakeMed ready to respond.

“This capability is not so much about post 9/11-thinking, as it is about natural events and it has tremendous capability to also deal with the new era we’re in,” he said.

Atkinson said WakeMed works daily to upgrade the system. He is confident the hospital can handle any emergency for the community.


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