Operation Tests Efficiency Of Disaster Survivors' Care

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The operation: Golden Phoenix. The mission: How to efficiently meet the needs of survivors and manage desperate people in the aftermath of major earthquake.

Staged July 24 in Arizona and California, the emergency preparedness operation brought together more than 50 military and civilian agencies who would be involved in disaster relief.

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HELP set up its mobile telemedicine clinic, Doc-In-A-Box, at Arizona State University's Decision Theater. The theater has a 280-degree screen with the capability to show many areas of operation at one time. Top center, O.B.-Gyn Cynthia Booth gets ready to assist in a mock emergency birth. Top right, diagnostic equipment.

"If an earthquake happens, a bunch of people are going to self-evacuate from Los Angeles to Phoenix on I-10 or to San Diego, then into Arizona on I-8," said Randy Roberson, the founder of Humanitarian Emergency Logistic Preparedness (HELP), a Payson-based nonprofit.

Roberson, a Payson resident, knows about natural disasters.

He traveled to Turkey after a 1999 earthquake that left 45,000 dead and 150,000 injured. Hospitals had been damaged, some beyond repair, and emergency medical crews were overwhelmed.

Roberson said he found himself in situations where the meager medical aid he was able to give kept him awake at night.

Telemedicine clinics, he said, can make a difference.

Via a satellite uplink through HELP, a doctor on the other side of the globe can assist relief workers at the scene of disaster.

During last month's drill, a military reconnaissance helicopter dropped SWAT teams to a simulated riot at a California mall. Helicopters brought food to a relief area staged at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

At the same time, HELP set up its mobile telemedicine clinic, Doc-In-A-Box, outside Arizona State University's Decision Theater.

HELP tested its uplinks with two local physicians, Cynthia Booth and Alan Michels.

Michels, HELP's program adviser and president of Interactive Medical Solutions provided medical oversight to the exercise.

Booth and doctor James Zozobrado in Chandler, assisted in mock births.

HELP also connected to ASU and through ASU, to California operations.

In the event of an actual disaster effort, the clinic would have been set up along Interstate 10 between Arizona and California, Roberson said.

Operation Phoenix gave personnel at the different agencies the time to explore just how they could work together. They also discovered hitches in communication.

Hospitals and crews in the field have different types of connectivity networks. Privacy standards must be respected by those temporarily linked.

Although HELP was unable to connect directly with Medweb for Golden Phoenix, they have since solved the connectivity issue and are ready to proceed at any time.

"I was encouraged by the cooperation and ongoing synergy as Arizona Sate University. This looks like a relationship that can make a difference not only in Arizona emergencies, but around the world," Roberson said.

Greg Graf, assistant director of Decision Theater said he has no doubt that ASU will participate in a disaster drill for a third year in 2008.

"Phoenix does not get many natural disasters so this is a good location to coordinate emergency services," he said.

Next year's drill is still in the planning stages. It could be humanitarian relief planning with Mexico, or it could be something closer to home such as a fire sweeping through Tucson or Roosevelt Dam breaking.

We want the exercise to be different and involve as many organizations communicating as possible, Graf said.

For more information about the Decision Theater, go to www.decisiontheater.org.

For more information about HELP, go to www.disasterlogistics.org.

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