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How UPMC is preparing for a Las Vegas-style massacre

Megan Guza
| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 1:41 p.m.
Students from the department of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh create realistic-looking wounds in preparation for a mass casualty drill at UPMC Presbyterian on  Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The drills prepare the hospital's emergency department for a large influx of injured patients all at once.
Megan Guza | Tribune-Review
Students from the department of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh create realistic-looking wounds in preparation for a mass casualty drill at UPMC Presbyterian on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The drills prepare the hospital's emergency department for a large influx of injured patients all at once.
Emergency department doctors, nurses and staff at UPMC Presbyterian receive instructions before a mass casualty drill at UPMC Presbyterian on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The drills prepare the hospital's emergency department for a large influx of injured patients all at once.
Megan Guza | Tribune-Review
Emergency department doctors, nurses and staff at UPMC Presbyterian receive instructions before a mass casualty drill at UPMC Presbyterian on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. The drills prepare the hospital's emergency department for a large influx of injured patients all at once.

Emergency room doctors didn't know it, but Jason Berman's spinal injury was worse than they thought.

One of at least 50 people posing as trauma patients at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland on Thursday morning, he at least looked to be in better shape than most — no blood, no visible wounds. Once at the hospital, though, emergency room staff realized the injury to his spinal cord was major.

That was Berman's role Thursday morning, anyway.

Berman was one of about 50 seniors from the University of Pittsburgh's department of emergency medicine who volunteered as victims to help Presby's emergency department evaluate and strengthen its response in the event of a mass casualty incident.

Doctors and staff stressed that the drill had been planned for months and was not a result of the domestic terrorism in Las Vegas or any specific threat.

“This was planned way before the events in Las Vegas this week, but those events highlight why it's so important for us as a trauma center to practice and refine our response to a huge influx of injured patients all at once,” said Dr. Raquel Forsythe, a UPMC general trauma surgeon.

David Toma, director of environmental health and safety at UPMC, said that between turnover and changing best practices, it's vital to run such drills now and again. In this instance, he said, they put into place some new procedures learned from emergency staff in Orlando in the aftermath of last year's Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49.

“Mass casualty incidents are changing,” Toma said. “You had situations in the past where the incident was remote to the hospital — an industrial accident, a bus crash — and you'd know what was happening before folks showed up at the hospital.”

Cases such as Las Vegas, Orlando and others have changed the way emergency departments plan for such incidents.

“Now, these events are happening and people are presenting to the emergency department and the emergency department has no knowledge of the event,” he said.

He said he was pleased with the drill and its results.

It is one of several exercises the hospital system holds through the year in order to stay ready for the unexpected, said Dr. Adam Tobias, a UPMC emergency medicine physician.

“This is something that you can never do perfectly,” Tobias said. “But the more you practice, the smoother it goes in real life when one of these incidents occurs.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @meganguzaTrib.

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