Signs outside Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital warned of disaster Wednesday. Any individual who entered the premises was scanned for a flu outbreak and hundreds of sick victims shuffled through a triage while children lay dying, strewn on the ground.
But everyone remained calm because the victims were all volunteers, the top of the signs all said “Drill” and the dying children were made of cardboard.
The scene was part of the Coyote Crisis Campaign, a regional disaster preparedness project that dramatized a mock flu pandemic at both Scottsdale Healthcare Shea and Osborn hospitals to increase readiness for a possible outbreak of avian flu.
“We are testing preparedness as a test-run in the case there is a surge of very ill patients, and no beds and no supplies,” said Terra Nair, the hospitals’ trauma coordinator.
Wednesday’s drill coincided with last week’s announcement that the Food and Drug Administration approved a bird flu vaccine for humans.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the last pandemic flu was in 1918, which killed at least 20 million people, approximately double the number killed on the battlefields of Europe during World War I.
Nair said this drill was a kind of “pre-emptive strike” at the next big outbreak.
Both Scottsdale hospitals were in constant communication during the drill in order to coordinate would-be patient overflow and a 40 percent reduction in staff, which, in a real pandemic, is the estimated amount of the regional population that would be out sick with the flu.
“It’s a wonderful training exercise for our staff and a great opportunity to involve and educate the community about flu pandemics,” Nair said.
This year’s mock triage was the largest ever in Scottsdale because almost every unit within the hospitals was involved and there were more volunteers.
In the past, the drills primarily have been used to experiment with disaster relief, and a year ago the hospitals staged a terrorist bomb explosion.
Volunteers, made up primarily of students studying medicine as well as members of the public, pretended to be flu victims and they were “treated” in external triages outside real emergency areas, which were being used to treat actual patients.
Kristen Crone, 22, who is studying to be a registered nurse at Scottsdale Community College, was a drill victim.
“It’s great to see how these triages would be coordinated,” Crone said. “I feel comfortable with how it all works.”
No natural immunity appears to exist against avian flu, which has been found in Asia, parts of Europe and Africa. It has yet to reach North America, according to the CDC.