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Disaster drill helps VA Salt Lake and its community partners prepare for national disaster

An emergency responder attends to a patient on a gurney during a preparedness exercise
Staff from VA Salt Lake City and community partners coordinated a full-scale National Disaster Medical System exercise.

This is what preparedness looks like. This is what it takes to be ready. We must know how to handle the unthinkable; the last two years have taught us that.

The VA Salt Lake City Healthcare System and community partners conducted a mass casualty training exercise at Salt Lake City International Airport.

While caring for our nation’s Veterans is our number one mission, the VA is also here to improve the nation’s preparedness for response to war, terrorism, national emergencies, and natural disaster.

The scenario for this exercise involved a massive earthquake hitting Alaska, overwhelming the state’s health care system. Our mission was to offload an Air Force aircraft, triage and transport patients to local hospitals—all while tracking not just the patients, but any family members traveling with them and even their service animals.

“This gives us the ability to work with our community partners, and to exercise so when we have a real-life event, then we’re prepared and we’re ready,” said Dr. Angela Williams, interim director at VA Salt Lake City Healthcare System.  

VA Salt Lake City Healthcare System serves as the lead agency for National Disaster Medical System’s (NDMS) Salt Lake City Federal Coordination Center. It is one of 54 VA federal coordinating centers around the country ready to spring into action in case of a national disaster.

 “[The Department of] Health and Human Services is the overall lead for NDMS, but they know the VA runs those federal coordinating centers. HHS leans on the VA for this,” said Gregory McQuaide, VA Salt Lake City emergency manager.

The preparation for the exercise takes time, but the effort pays off not just for the exercise but also if the Salt Lake FCC is ever activated.

“It’s everything we do outside this exercise: the relationships we built with our community partners, and it’s always ensuring that we have good hospital points of contact, state points of contact, as people come and go, making sure keep up those relationships,” McQuaide said.

“A lot of people don’t see the VA as playing with our communities in emergency management because they don’t realize that that is one of our core missions,” said Williams. “This is another way to educate them that the VA, yes we do take care of Veterans, but we are available to take care of civilians and our community partners when we need to.”

VA Salt Lake carries out the National Disaster Medical System Exercise annually.

Watch the video - National Disaster Medical System exercise

See more photos from the exercise on our Facebook page.

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