Military personnel from across the country joined the Louisiana Department of Health to test the state’s multiple-hospital evacuation plan today at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Mock patients were loaded into C-130 aircraft, which had been retrofitted for use as a flying medical facility, as part of the exercise for the Medical Institution Evacuation Plan (MIEP).
The MIEP, developed after Hurricane Katrina, is an evacuation plan for hospitals in case of a catastrophic event that forces a crisis response beyond their capabilities and resources. The plan, which was activated prior to Hurricane Gustav’s landfall in 2008, is initiated when multiple hospitals along the threatened coastline have to evacuate at the same time. During Gustav, 11,000 people were evacuated from medical facilities representing the largest medical evacuation in the country’s history. Of those, about 500 were evacuated through the MIEP, which is applicable throughout south Louisiana and has already been tested previously at New Orleans Lakefront Airport and Chennault Airpark in Lake Charles.
“We certainly pray that we will not need to activate this level of crisis evacuation, but at the same time want to be ready for any scenario we may face. We know that plans like this save lives.” LDH Secretary Alan Levine said at a news conference at the airport in advance of the exercise this morning. “The partnerships we’ve forged with other state agencies as well as our local and federal partners are critical to executing these life-saving measures should they be needed.”
Among those many federal partners is the United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), which supported the state’s exercise for the third straight year.
“The Department of Defense is here and ready to provide resources states need in the event of an emergency,” said Col. Larry Riddles, Command Surgeon with TRANSCOM, who joined Sec. Levine at the news conference. "Participation in these MIEP exercises allows our patient movement specialists to work in the state emergency operations center and at the airports where they would be deployed to evacuate patients during a disaster.”
The exercise began Wednesday with the first phase – determining in a mock setting how many hospitals and how many patients required evacuation. The final phases of the exercise continued Thursday with the testing of evacuation operations’ ability to use C-130’s to airlift mock patients to awaiting hospitals around the country.
Mock patients were brought to the airport via ambulances where they were assessed and equipped for transport. Mannequins representing those patients were then loaded onto the retrofitted C-130s, which were configured to carry as many as 72 stretchers each and are equipped with hospital-level power and staffed with medical personnel. The exercise was an effort to improve communications with hospitals, enhance patient tracking, and create a seamless chain of custody as patients are transferred to safer locations. The same kind of exercise was conducted in Southwest Louisiana last year and in New Orleans the previous year.
New Orleans Deputy Mayor of Operations Greg St. Etienne also spoke Thursday morning and emphasized the critical role coordination plays in properly responding to a disaster. “We know, and you can see it at work here, that we must work together – federal, state and local partners – to properly protect and provide for our citizens in an emergency situation,” St. Etienne said.
This year, the Kentucky Air National Guard provided the military aircraft and used the exercise to conduct an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). An ORI typically gauges wartime readiness; this was the first time it was used during a civilian event.
The MIEP is a massive coordinated effort among the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Louisiana National Guard (LANG), Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA), Department of Defense including elements from U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), U.S. Army North (ARNORTH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FEMA, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, Louisiana State Police, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, EMS, local hospitals, regional airport managers and air traffic control.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov.