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February 08, 2024 (Cleveland, OH)

The Center for Health Affairs Leads Chemical Emergency Surge Tabletop Exercise



On Feb. 2, The Center for Health Affairs’ Emergency Preparedness team led a chemical emergency surge tabletop exercise to test area hospitals and other partner agencies in a mock chemical release that would lead to an influx of patients.

The Center coordinated the scenario with federally designated Region II counties — Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula — each of which provided a host location. Exercise discussion was facilitated by local fire and hazmat personnel. The more than 80 participants included area hospitals, non-government organizations, county emergency management agencies, county public health departments, fire, emergency medical services (EMS) and representatives from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

The mock scenario began with the release of a toxic inhalation hazard from a local business, injuring employees and impacting the surrounding neighborhood. Participants of the tabletop exercise discussed managing contaminated patients at the scene and the treatment, triage and transport of those patients to area hospitals. Discussion included how hospitals would receive a surge of gross, or initially, decontaminated patients to their emergency departments and managing secondary decontamination of those patients. Other aspects of the exercise included incident communication among healthcare coalition partners, the mobilization of a family reunification center and the ODH notification process from the region. 

“This exercise tested the draft regional Chemical Emergency Surge Annex and how to coordinate this type of incident with healthcare coalition partners and community stakeholders,” said The Center’s Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Christina Fozio. “Community preparedness partners need to come together to problem solve on how to best manage and mitigate this type of emergency. A discussion-based tabletop exercise provides community partners the opportunity to talk through and evaluate what is working and where improvements can be made.” 

A unique aspect of this exercise included the challenge of coordinating with in-person participants as well as individuals utilizing a virtual setting through Microsoft Teams. This involved effective communication from a single large meeting room and managing breakout rooms for each county.

Leading up to the exercise, The Center’s emergency preparedness program — consisting of Senior Specialist Colin Johnson, Project Specialist Carrie Lang, and led by Christina Fozio — drafted a chemical emergency plan that was submitted to ODH in Dec. 2023. The Center coordinated exercise logistics with the Regional Healthcare Coalition and multiple workgroups. Exercise facilitation was coordinated by lead facilitator, Solon Fire Chief Mark Vedder. Next steps include finalizing the plan, submitting it to ODH and working through the after-action and improvement process. 

The Center for Health Affairs’ Emergency Preparedness program plays a key role in improving the level of emergency preparedness in Northeast Ohio by working with area hospitals and key stakeholders to enhance the region’s ability to respond to and recover from natural and man-made disasters. The program promotes healthcare preparedness with funds administered through the Ohio Department of Health provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

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