Massport Incident Response Drill Provides Preparedness Training for Casualty Event
On March 3-4, MFDA consultant Doug Leard took part in a two-day Mass Fatality response event focusing on Family Assistance Centers and organized by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Mass casualty training response drills are conducted periodically so responders are prepared in the event of a local catastrophic event. The training is in no way related to the events in Brussels this week. Thank you Doug for preparing this report.
The day began with guest speakers talking about various roles, responsibilities and lessons learned from Family Assistance Centers in prior mass casualty events such as Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 events and the Boston Marathon bombing. The afternoon involved a full-scale mock bombing/shooting exercise to test the ability of Massport to respond to a mass casualty event involving 107 deaths and 136 serious injuries at Logan Airport; collect vital information from victims and family members; offer support to all victims of this event and to identify human remains.
In addition to the immediate response by Massport Fire/Rescue and the Mass. State Police, the Massachusetts Port Authority immediately activates its existing mass casualty plan calling for the notification and activation of its Family Assistance Center, CARE Team, Joint Family Support Operation Center (JFSOC), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston Medical Intelligence Center (MIC), all Boston and area hospitals, the American Red Cross’ new Patient Connection Platform (tested for its first time this day), the OCME, the FBI, a dedicated Consular Liaison to assist foreign Consular Offices with foreign nationals, and many other pertinent agencies.
According to the current (January 2015) Commonwealth of Massachusetts Mass Fatality Management Plan “a Mass Fatality Family Assistance Center (MA FAC) serves as an information hub where family members provide information about missing persons who are presumed dead, and MA FAC personnel provide families with information concerning the identification of deceased and the process of body release.”
Although the role of the funeral service was not an active component evaluated in this particular exercise it is important to note that a mass casualty event would most definitely require the services of the funeral industry. No two mass casualty incidents are the same therefore the number and types of required resources would vary with each event.
On March 4, those involved in the previous day’s exercise discussed how the response drills went and if the exercise met the intended goals. Participants also discussed those areas that might need improvement. In summary below is a list of some of the concerns discussed:
Data Management appeared to be of concern. Victims & family members assigned to this event reported frustration with being asked to give information repeatedly at different locations within the MA FAC. Actors were informed not to volunteer information unless asked. This appeared to present workers with multiple and inconsistent databases to work with. The possibility to integrate data was mentioned.
There was mention that possibly a wristband capable of being scanned with a bar code containing family information be prepared.
Given the comments about victims/family members being asked for pertinent information on multiple occasions, there was concern that information gathered be accurate. The death certificates prepared by funeral directors are “legal documents” and require funeral directors ascertain complete and accurate information about the deceased, some of which may never be asked during prior interviews.
The question of how information about the mass casualty event is disbursed to family members was of concern. In the event of an incident at Logan Airport, roadways will be closed and limited to necessary traffic only. Will there be designated phone lines for family members to call? Where is the MA FAC located? How do they get there?
In addition to the lack of a funeral service component evaluated in the MA FAC, the inevitable mass of potential family members flocking to the site of a mass casualty was not tested. It is estimated that 10 people for every victim would make an attempt to visit the site and the Family Assistance Center. As a result security and crowd control will be mandatory.
The American Red Cross Patient Connection Platform was tested for its first time. The American Red Cross is HIPAA-exempt, which enables hospitals to share information with the Red Cross during times of disaster solely for the purpose of family reunification.
The Department of Homeland Security demonstrated its Rapid DNA Testing capabilities. The system is designed to be used by non-technical users while generating a DNA profile in less than two hours. Eighteen samples were collected. This was the first time that Rapid DNA testing was used in a mass casualty event.
Some of the agencies participating in this exercise were Massport Authority, Massport Fire/Rescue, Massport CARE Team, Massport Operations, Mass. State Police, Boston EMS, Mass. OCME, U.S. Customs, U.S. State Department/Consulate, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Red Cross, National Guard, Mass. Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), Mass. Department of Public Health, Department of Homeland Security – Rapid DNA Testing, SNA International and MFDA.
Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, 536 Broad St. #4, Weymouth, MA 02189