Memorial Hermann Completes “Operation Touchdown” Emergency Preparedness Drills
From devastating floods and natural
disasters, to tragic and unexpected events, hospitals across the country have
been called upon in recent years to respond to unpredictable events that can
easily overwhelm resources and strain staff.
With each situation, the healthcare
industry has been challenged to re-examine emergency management efforts to
ensure that everyone, from the paramedics who are first on the scene to the
surgeons in the operating room, are equipped and trained to respond to disaster
the moment it strikes.
Memorial Hermann Health System has long
been a leader in the healthcare industry in disaster preparedness. For years, a
dedicated emergency management team has worked closely with hospitals across
the system to complete annual drills to prepare staff for a mass influx of
patients in compliance with federal rules requiring “patient surge” exercises.
This year, as Houston prepared to host
millions of visitors for Super Bowl LI, the emergency management team
intensified its efforts to ready Memorial Hermann facilities for the
“We knew that since Houston would be on
the national stage during the Super Bowl, there was a heightened need for
harnessing our energy to prepare our facilities for the various scenarios that
could arise when large groups of people gather in one of the country’s largest
cities,” said Robin Davis, Memorial Hermann Health System Emergency Manager.
“Our aim was to test the process and the plans that we’ve implemented in recent
years to gauge how prepared we are for these types of events.”
Over the past few months, 10 Emergency
Centers across the System participated in standardized preparedness exercises
comprised of two parts, a functional tabletop drill followed by a large-scale
disaster exercise, replete with more than 350 volunteers pretending to be
patients with realistic looking injuries, made-up patient histories and lab
results. The exercises also included participation from first responders and
even other hospitals across the Greater Houston region.
The exercises, dubbed “Operation
Touchdown,” presented each hospital with different circumstances and stressors
to examine specific areas of the facilities’ disaster response plans and
strengthen the System’s overall ability to respond to any crisis, no matter the
situation. In addition, the drills differed from anything Memorial Hermann has
previously hosted because they incorporated various first responder agencies
that share a close relationship with the System. The Houston Fire Department,
the Montgomery County Hospital District, the Houston Airport System, the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Atascocita Fire Department are just a
few names included in the long list of agencies that participated.
“These paramedics and first responders
work closely with our hospitals every single day and it was important for us to
include them so that they could help practice along with us,” Davis said. “In a
real-life scenario, patients aren’t going to just show up to the hospital by
themselves. Paramedics and EMS agencies are critical components to getting
patients safely from the scene into our facilities so we can continue providing
the lifesaving treatment they need.”
While the 10 hospitals participating in
the drills were each given a different hypothetical scenario, ranging from a
bus crash on the interstate to an explosion at the airport, all faced the same
challenge of having to create a Family Resource Center, a relatively new concept
“In a disaster scenario, we need to be
able to quickly create a safe space where we can bring in family members who
are looking for their loved ones,” said Amber Johnson, emergency management
planner at Memorial Hermann. “We need to provide them with information that can
help lessen the stress and burden on the Emergency Centers and other areas of
the hospitals that can occur when family members are wandering around looking
The drills provided valuable lessons
for the System on best practices for creating Family Resource Centers that can
be applied across the organization, Davis said.
“We received a lot of great feedback
from the individuals who will be tasked with setting up those centers and they
came up with some really innovative ideas nobody had thought of before, which
will greatly help us create a robust plan for setting up Family Resource
The emergency management team
successfully noted areas for improvement and was pleased to see that time and
time again, every hospital managed to provide excellent clinical care, despite
the hectic circumstances.
“Across the entire chain, every group that interacted
with the patients did an outstanding job of responding to the needs of the
patient in front of them,” Davis said. “When it comes to patient care, our
staff knows exactly what to do, no matter the situation.”