Program Director for Institutional Preparedness, University of Texas Medical Branch
Healthcare Track: Continuity of Healthcare for Major Chemical Mass Casualty Incidents
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was recently invited to meet with the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Health Affairs to present on UTMB’s 3-year effort to develop a national model for response to major chemical incidents such as releases of toxic industrial chemicals like Hydrofluoric Acid (HF). Unlike other chemical releases, HF produces a heavier-than-air persistent vapor cloud that is toxic to people, animals, and plant life. Specific medical countermeasures are needed to treat HF injuries, yet these are in short supply. Department of Homeland Security also recently completed a three-year effort to develop a new framework and strategic approach to chemical incident preparedness (for terrorist incidents and accidents). Although the efforts were independent, there were many commonalities, including the use of advanced computational modeling by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to simulate chemical release scenarios. Another significant similar approach was to enhance the risk assessment process to incorporate information about the jurisdiction’s response capability. A new toolset was developed called a Response Risk Assessment (RRA).
In its pilot program, DHS completed the RRA at five cities across the United States (including Houston as part of the Super Bowl preparedness effort). At the conclusion of the meeting, the Office of Health Affairs and UTMB agreed to pilot test the RRA Toolset in Galveston County Texas with the assistance of UTMB. The ultimate goal is to roll out the toolset to all U.S. jurisdictions for self-assessments. The presentation will use HF as a case study on use of an enhanced risk assessment process to build healthcare continuity. Another aspect of preparedness examined is the use of a combination of an all-chemical hazards approach – with – a specific planning approach for Priority Risk chemicals in a given region. UTMB now sponsors an annual HF incident symposium that includes national and international experts in various aspects of the response. Honeywell, the world’s largest producers of HF, participates in UTMB’s annual HF Exercise and Symposium. The project won a University of Texas National Security Excellence grant and was the basis for a recent award of a Combined Coordinated Terrorist Attack (CCTA) preparedness grant from Department of Homeland Security/FEMA.