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On 17 October 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay area, home to more than 6 million people. This study examined the effectiveness and function of emergency medical services (EMS) communications after this event.
The six Bay area counties most affected by the Loma Prieta Earthquake were surveyed using a 156-part questionnaire. This study examined the functioning of the primary 9-1-1 county dispatch centers. Paramedics involved in a set of defined activities during the period after the earthquake also were surveyed. Emergency medical services directors also were questioned by telephone using an interview tool developed for this purpose. All areas concerning disaster response were not queried. Ten specific areas were considered, including: 1) preparation for disaster; 2) the impact of the earthquake; 3) reconnaissance; 4) call volume; and 5) others.
Coordination among the various agencies responsible for disaster response and mitigation needs more study. Uniform response plans for medical mutual aid need development. Government support similar to police and fire department arrangements for mutual aid are not in place. Additional planning and training for disasters at all levels need reassessment. The communication-center personnel indicated that they did not call for more resources, but instead accepted volunteers at dispatch centers and extra assistance. Once engaged, however, most communications centers (CCs) had great difficulty tracking and controlling all the units under their jurisdiction. In some large urban counties, some ambulances were idled awaiting calls but lost their communications centers, while other ambulance personnel were trying to handle multiple patients and requests for services.
Significant help from a state or federal agency likely will be unavailable for a substantial period after a catastrophic regional event. Important coordination among EMS agencies for disaster response is poor or absent. Although fatalities and casualties were limited compared to what could have occurred, great confusion reigned for varying periods of time after the earthquake. Communications among local agencies, counties, and the state were problematic. Information flow to hospitals was cited frequently as a problem, making it difficult for hospitals to prepare adequately. Medical mutual-aid help was disorganized and inadequately controlled. The training of personnel and the method of recall for disaster response need to be examined.
To study hospital disaster operations following a major United States disaster.
Researchers interviewed all 51 hospital administrators and 49 of 51 emergency department (ED) charge nurses and emergency physicians who were on duty at the study hospitals during the 13-hour period immediately following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The 51 acute-care hospitals in the six northern California counties most affected by the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Questionnaires and inperson interviews.
The most frequently noted problem was lack of communications within and among organizations. Hospitals received inadequate information about the disaster from local governmental agencies. Forty-three percent of hospitals had inadequate back-up power configurations, and five hospitals sustained total back-up generator failures. Twenty hospitals performed partial evacuations.
The Loma Prieta earthquake did not cause total disruption of hospital services. Hospitals need to work with local governmental agencies and internal hospital departments to improve disaster communications.
The role of the base-hospital and on-line medical control in a disaster has not been investigated previously. This study assesses the roles of base-hospitals and the value and feasibility of on-line medical control during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The researchers studied five Bay Area counties most affected by the earthquake: San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. Researchers sent questionnaires to all 1,498 registered EMTs and paramedics in these counties; 620 were returned (41.4%). Respondents answered questions about activities performed, contacts with base-hospitals and other agencies, and problems encountered the night of the earthquake. Researchers selected 63 paramedics for in-depth interviews based on their performance of significant advanced life support (ALS) activities performed during the disaster. The coordinators of the 13 base-hospitals (BHCs) in the region also received and returned questionnaires about medical control, base-hospital roles during the disaster, and problems encountered. Researchers interviewed all five county emergency medical services (EMS) agency directors.
The surveys of EMS directors, base-hospital coordinators, and paramedics indicate that confusion existed over the status of medical control after the earthquake. There was general agreement among base-hospital coordinators (BHCs) that suspension of medical control is appropriate in a major disaster.
Three bases had appropriate equipment to function as back-up dispatch centers. Eight bases had adequate personnel, but only one BHC felt his personnel had adequate training to function in a dispatch capacity. Nine paramedics did not start or continue resuscitation on patients whom they ordinarily would have begun resuscitation.
Emergency medical services should suspend medical control immediately following a major disaster and ensure that all prehospital and base personnel are notified. Disrupted communications protocols for prehospital personnel should reflect the skill and knowledge level of paramedics and the need for rapid, advanced practice in a disaster. Disaster planners should consider other roles for base hospitals in major disasters.
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