He said the medical unit is crucial to effective disaster response. Stanford University Medical Center officials were clear during meetings that they wanted the city to care for lesser injuries in a disaster.
It could be hours or days before Palo Alto residents receive transportation for injuries after a disaster, he added. With most fire, police and emergency personnel residing outside of the city, the few on-duty police (about 10) and firefighters (about 29) would be overwhelmed in a disaster.
The specially trained volunteers will fill a gap between care at the hospital emergency room and ground-level emergency response from the volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), he said.
The new medical unit will have two levels: retired nurses and doctors for pre-hospital care and treatment in triage centers; and neighborhood volunteers for treating patients who don't require a trip to the emergency room.
Lesser-trained persons can act as scribes or in other support roles. The training is more akin to wilderness medicine, Dueker said.
Registered nurse Bonnie Berg, who is co-leading the medical unit, emphasized the importance of developing a volunteer emergency medical team.
"We will only have one another to depend on in case of a significant emergency.
"Each member of the team, from the medical care people to the scribes, runners and radio operators, is an important contributor in caring for people in need. I see the unit as an intelligent way to prepare for a disaster and an effective way to provide medical care for the people of our community in an emergency, " she said.
Even non-medical professionals can be trained in important skills, such as psychology training. Learning to calm people "is really important because a lot of people will be freaking out" during a disaster, she said.
"I was with a child as he was dying because a car rolled over on him. I couldn't do much for him as a nurse, but I could be there as his support person," she recalled Wednesday afternoon.
Nurses and doctors who don't want to actively participate in the unit can still be placed on a resource roster, Dueker said. They would be called upon only if needed for a disaster. Residents without medical backgrounds can receive basic instruction in the 20-hour CERT program and additional instruction in wilderness medicine and other support services, he said.
Dueker put the medical unit's importance in basic terms: The one thing he doesn't want to tell a person with a dangling broken arm is, "Sorry, you'll just have to wait."
More information about the medical unit, radio communications, shelter and human services or public works/storm response units can be found at paneighborhoods.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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