Disaster drills helped Philadelphia hospitals respond to Amtrak train crash

In the wake of this week's derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, the city's hospitals faced a surge of incoming patients--and thanks to disaster drills, they were well-prepared, according to NBC Philadelphia.

At least seven Philadelphia hospitals treated victims of the accident, with Temple University Hospital, which treated 54 patients, handling most of them, according to the article. When the patients began to arrive, the hospital called for all available staff, according to Chief Medical Officer Herbert Cushing, M.D. The call mobilized more than 40 physicians and the hospital was able to assign a resident doctor to all admitted trauma patients.

Neurosurgeon Erol Veznedaroglu, M.D., who provided care to victims at Aria Health and Hahnemann University Hospital, told NJ.com that there was no question that the simulated training exercises for mass casualty incidents were why the triage process was so effective. 

"The communication was excellent, the triage was excellent to get the sickest patients to the closest hospital immediately," he said. 

Similarly, Juliet Geiger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, attributed the efficiency of city providers' response to regular disaster training. "Philadelphia is, out of any city in this state, they are probably the best prepared by virtue of the volume of trauma patients they get every day," she told NBC Philadelphia.

Without that preparation, the process could have been far less smooth, according to Mark Kaplan, M.D., of Einstein Medical Facility, because despite Philadelphia hospitals' extensive communication network, the number of injuries after the crash made it difficult for them to communicate clearly with first responders. Because the crash occurred toward the end of a shift, Kaplan said, numerous Einstein staff members were able to stay late to help treat incoming patients and others scheduled to start at 11:00 p.m. were on call early.

Hospital resiliency is vital in emergencies and after natural disasters, according Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., who said hospitals and health systems should determine which existing mechanisms they can expand in a scenario where they must care for large numbers of people in very little time, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Recent emergencies such as the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing spurred many facilities to step up their emergency preparation.

To learn more:
- here's the NBC Philadelphia article
- read the NJ.com article