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Master of Disaster
A town meeting on emergency preparedness is scheduled for later this month.
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Howie Gwon is ready. For fire, bombs, tornados and pandemic flu. Hopkins Hospital’s guru of disaster management has even equipped a satellite command station in his suburban home in case any one of a list of scenarios keeps him away from his assigned post in the Billings Administration Building.

Gwon has directed the Office of Emergency Management for the hospital and the School of Medicine since 2006. For the last 20 years, however, he and his fellow disaster planners have helped script how the hospital campus should prepare for chaos and catastrophe. In the wake of the 9-11 attacks, the flooding after Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shootings, his mission has become more urgent.

“We have a plan for almost any disaster: dirty bombs, chemical terrorism, bioterrorism, natural disaster. We have it all,” Gwon says.

Now it’s up to the Hopkins community to learn how to carry it out. A town meeting on emergency preparedness is scheduled at noon on March 26 in Hurd Hall. During the hour-long event, Gwon will discuss emergency plans and introduce some of the institution’s disaster management leaders. Similar meetings are planned for Johns Hopkins Bayview and Howard County General Hospital.

These sessions are the first of a regular series to update employees on Hopkins’ preparedness as well as on their own job responsibilities should disaster strike. Guidelines are also posted on www.hopkinsonalert.org.

What sort of emergencies are you prepared for?
We have about 30 different disaster plans that fall into various categories, including security-related disasters, such as explosions or civil disturbances or Virginia Tech-type incidents; safety disasters, such as fires and chemical spills; and patient influx disasters, such as a surge of patients from something like attack by a weapon of mass destruction or from the pandemic flu.

Which scenario do you consider most likely?
Pandemic flu. I think that most people are familiar with the 2003 outbreak of SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] when roughly 8,000 people were infected. Pandemic flu could affect millions of people. About half of the people who were infected with SARS in Vietnam, Singapore and Toronto were caregivers based in hospitals. We believe countermeasures will be the key to avoid catching the disease—and the major one will be to not get the flu in the first place. So how do you do that? Although there is no drug available at this time for pandemic flu, if one becomes available, we will distribute it so that employees don’t bring the disease back home with them. We’re also talking about providing such measures to family members, perhaps using Hopkins’ community health centers as distribution sites.

What can employees do to protect themselves?
Preparedness is the key. Come to the sessions, read our literature and take that information home. We’ll also discuss how to make emergency back-up or preparedness plans and have an up-to-date list of items that people should store in their homes.

How many people does your emergency planning affect?
We believe there are roughly 30,000 people on this campus. Roughly 4 to 6 percent of hospital employees and 14 to 22 percent of School of Medicine employees are managers or supervisors. Each department has a disaster coordinator to serve as a liaison to me. Along with their management team, they need to determine what they should put in place so that their people can carry out their assigned responsibilities. For instance, they will need to learn how to protect themselves or minimize their exposure from chemicals, radiation or infectious disease.

In an emergency, it makes sense that doctors and nurses should report for duty, but what about everyone else?
There are very few departments in the hospital that are non-essential. Everybody will have a role that is either their primary assignment or a job that supplements patient care teams. We want you to carry out your day-to-day responsibilities. If people do what they need to do to protect themselves and their families, they will hopefully be more willing to come to work.

 


—Linell Smith

 

 

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