Palo Alto Weekly Online Edition

Uploaded: Monday, Oct. 1, 2001, 10:45 a.m.

Getting ready at the hospital

Stanford Medical Center fine-tunes its disaster plan

by Don Kazak

Planning for large-scale disasters was under way at Stanford Hospital before the events of Sept. 11, but doctors say they'll tweak their plans in light of the terrorist attacks.

Stanford runs disaster drills twice a year, and a disaster-preparedness committee meets monthly. All hospitals are required by the state and federal governments to have disaster plans.

"We already had plans to deal with large influxes of patients into the ER, and we practice the heck out of it twice a year," said Per Schenck, the hospital's disaster-preparedness coordinator who is also an ex-Navy corpsman.

If there is any difference after Sept. 11, Schenck said, it is that "we have to be more vigilant in our planning and a little more careful. We're looking now for weak points in our communications system."

After Sept. 11, there have been news articles about the danger of future terrorist attacks using biological, chemical or radioactive weapons. But such apocalyptic scenarios aren't new to the disaster planners.

"For the last two years now, we've been getting information from the federal and state governments on the effects of weapons of mass destruction," Schenck said.

One problem with biological or chemical weapons, he said, is that the first indications "are so subtle that it sweeps over you before you realize it," which makes the initial diagnosis so critical. The first effects of some biological weapons, for instance, may just show up as flu-like symptoms.

The hospital conducts emergency drills, such as one recent one which had doctors and nurses using the large first-floor cafeteria adjacent to the emergency room as a spillover area for treatment.

Stanford Hospital has a large emergency department, treating about 3,300 patients a month. The emergency room has the only Level One trauma center, for treating victims of serious accidents, between San Jose and San Francisco.

"We're looking at our plans and seeing how we can tweak them," Schenck said.



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