NDMS Training Focuses on Smallpox, New Regional Disaster System

NDMS Training Focuses on Smallpox, New Regional Disaster System

By Elleen Kane, APR Aug 08, 2018

To boost the nation’s preparedness for highly infectious diseases and the health effects of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies, more than 2,000 health professionals from the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) came together in Atlanta July 23–27 for targeted training. 

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the group represented the largest cadre of NDMS personnel to participate in training the same time in recent years. 

NDMS consists of health professionals—paramedics, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, forensic specialists, and more—from across the country. They work in private industry or local government and are called into paid federal service during disasters. Their jobs at home are protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

All NDMS personnel attending the summit were fit-tested with N95 respirators and reviewed and practiced donning and doffing Level C personal protective equipment (PPE) to understand the protective measures required to provide medical care while preventing exposure to CBRN agents or highly infectious diseases. 

Among the 70 training sessions, NDMS personnel also learned how to identify smallpox and administer the smallpox vaccine, a lost skill set. Although mass-vaccination campaigns eradicated the disease worldwide in the 1980, smallpox could be used in bioterrorism. The vaccination requires 15 tiny injections into a small spot on the arm, which takes practice. NDMS personnel practiced on vegetables during the session.

“Bring a headlamp instead of a flashlight” was just one of the practical tips participants learned during the session on “What Wildness Medicine Can Teach Responders.” They also explored unique illnesses and injuries occurring in wilderness medicine that also are found in disaster survivors and novel lifesaving techniques used in austere environments that apply to disaster medicine

The summit also included a discussion on how EMS and other responders can work with NDMS teams during a response. Discussion leader Ira Nemeth, MD, FACEP, FAEMS, from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, noted that NDMS personnel should work ahead of disasters to help local EMS and other medical providers understand the services available through NDMS and the type of care NDMS can deliver during a response. Nemeth also recommended that federal health officials work closely during disasters with local EMS providers so they understand when NDMS resources become available to the community, where they set up, and when they leave during a disaster.

ASPR Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kevin Yeskey, MD, introduced the new Regional Disaster Health Response System concept and how NDMS, EMS, and the current healthcare coalitions sponsored by the National Hospital Preparedness Program fit into it. The new framework builds on a tiered regional system, incorporating local healthcare coalitions and the U.S. trauma model with tiered levels of care. 

The new framework emphasizes integrating healthcare coalitions’ medical response capabilities with federal facilities and local emergency medical services. This system would expand specialty care expertise in trauma and CBRN casualty management and coordinate medical response through mutual aid. The Regional Disaster Health Response System also would incentivize the healthcare system to integrate measures of preparedness into daily standards of care.

To learn more about NDMS or to join a team, visit www.phe.gov/ndms

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Elleen Kane, APR, is a public affairs specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services.


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