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Civil emergencies occurring with little warning can quickly produce mass casualties. To develop an Emergency Department’s surge capacity, medical student involvement in the disaster response has been advocated. Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore is located in proximity to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and represents an untapped manpower resource. With appropriate training, medical students can be leveraged upon as ready and reasonably qualified manpower.
This review provides a snapshot of the conceptualization and setting up of the Disaster Volunteer Corps (DVC) program. We discuss the overall strategy and benefits to stakeholders, emphasizing the close symbiotic relationship between academia and healthcare services.
Duke-NUS medical students will be recruited to receive training from SGH emergency physicians. The frequency of training will be four times yearly, with ad hoc participation in disaster simulation exercises. A call-tree will be employed for DVC activation. The DVC curriculum includes disaster response principles, HAZMAT, crowd control, marshaling, logistics, psychological support, and basic first aid. Teaching methods include didactic lectures, case discussions, involvement in event medical cover, and participation in disaster simulation exercises and response planning.
To date, there are 10 medical students and four emergency physician faculty volunteers involved in the program. Support is provided by adjunct instructors from nursing, nuclear medicine, social work, and security, for training in decontamination, radiological disasters, psychological first aid, and crowd control measures respectively. Assessment by faculty will be conducted to ensure the quality of training and competency of skills.
The DVC provides a unique way of teaching medical students disaster medicine principles in a hands-on experiential format, while simultaneously enhancing the operational readiness of the hospital in times of disaster. This model of close collaboration between university educational and healthcare services provides a feasible model of structured volunteerism that could be replicated in other similar settings.
An incident involving the release of chlorine gas from the pump room at a local swimming pool resulted in 54 patients seeking treatment in the emergency departments (EDs) of two local, tertiary-level hospitals in Singapore. The hospital hazardous materials (HAZMAT) disaster plan was activated. This report describes how one of the EDs organized in response to the disaster.
Of the 54 people seeking treatment, 36 were treated in the ED at the Singapore General Hospital. The patients were decontaminated at shower facilities prior to entering the ED. The ED was reorganized to cope with existing patients, as well as the large influx of patients from the event site. A protocol was established in coordination with the local drug and poison information center to manage the patients who suffered from chlorine inhalation. Most patients were observed in the ED and subsequently discharged.Outpatient review appointments were scheduled.
Acute respiratory symptoms were the most common symptoms. Four children and four adults were admitted to the hospital, and the other patients were discharged from the ED after observation. All of the chest xrays were normal on the day of the chlorine inhalation. There were no mortalities or significant morbidities, even up to six months after the incident.
Although this chlorine HAZMAT incident did not cause severe injuries, and only a limited number of persons required admission to the hospital, some valuable lessons were learned.