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Disaster preparedness center to help prepare for 'the big one'

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SALT LAKE CITY — Getting Utah ready for "the big one" just got easier, as Intermountain Healthcare opened the first hospital-based disaster preparedness center west of the Mississippi River on Friday.

From simulated bodies and laminated maps of the hospital, to a functioning radio communication system and fully operational patient rooms, the Intermountain Center for Disaster Preparedness at LDS Hospital has left no stone unturned as far as emergency training is concerned.

"There's not many ways people can learn these things, without first trying them," said Ann Allen, emergency preparedness manager for Intermountain's Urban Central Region. And even if a big disaster doesn't happen, she said getting the information out is still important.

"What do you do if you're playing pool with friends at your house and the power goes out? At my house, we get out the headlamps and just keep playing," Allen said. If people learn just one skill to get through any situation where modern comforts are not available, she feels the center has done its job.

"We can set up any scenario to accommodate the learning process," Allen said. "We are teaching them in a real work environment. It's really invaluable."


The center occupies 7,000 square feet on the third floor of LDS Hospital. It has room to grow, as the hospital was recently downsized from 500 to 250 beds after Intermountain opened its trauma one medical complex in Murray. Two full-time employees and a website with more information regarding the center are forthcoming.

Allen and a disaster drill committee of 26 people plan various exercises for Intermountain hospitals, pharmacies and clinics throughout each year. The more training the better, she said.

"It's not just for those big events," she said. "It would be really horrible if it really happened, but the things we learn from these drills also help when little things go wrong."

Techniques learned in disaster training have already helped hospital personnel when rooms or floors have flooded unexpectedly, or when computer systems go down, said Edward Francis, the region's emergency management coordinator. He said doctors, nurses, administrators and emergency medical technicians can benefit from having more tools to draw on when a situation arises.

"When you lose everything and all your stuff is gone, it doesn't change anything, it just clarifies everything," said Dr. Daniel Diamond, an international disaster response expert. Diamond was a keynote speaker in a disaster preparedness symposium that accompanied the official opening of the center.

In a difficult situation, there isn't time for you to work on your weaknesses.

–Dr. Daniel Diamond

He said individuals make a choice to be either a "victim, exploiter, bystander or thriver" in the event of an emergency. A thriver, Diamond said, is the most effective, using his or her resources "to make everyone else a hero."

"In a difficult situation, there isn't time for you to work on your weaknesses," he said, adding that everyone is better off when people can succeed together.

The ICDP at LDS Hospital was created to help health care and first responder partners in the community and throughout the region become better prepared to respond to disaster and emergency situations. There are only a handful of similar centers around the country.

The Utah facility, which has been six years in the making, is now available for training any day of the week. Organizers anticipate helping thousands of representatives train and simulate events in a safe and practical environment.

"With many national and international disasters making headlines, the urgency for a training center like this was even more immediate," Allen said. She hopes to continue to expand the center, as growth is needed, to help communities across the state become better prepared for what may come.


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