TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – With its own power plant, water supply and emergency response teams, David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis AFB is a powerhouse in terms of structural design and team dynamics.
Mondell Anderson, 60th Medical Group emergency manager, guarantees DGMC is always prepared for the worst by ensuring the seven medical squadrons, with different mission sets, are fully trained at all times.
“If something bad happens here and we need to respond to an active shooter, an aircraft accident on the flight line or an emergency in the local community, we have about 1,500 active duty military people at David Grant who are all placed on one of about two dozen different disaster relief teams,” Anderson said. “We have clinical support teams, decontamination teams, surgical teams, manpower teams and more. There are about 25 of these teams in the hospital.”
When the hospital was built in 1988, it was designed with a specific natural disaster in mind.
“The hospital was built with added seismic bracing on all utilities to withstand an earthquake,” said Gary Seaver, 60th Medical Group lead stationary engineer. “It also has ‘rollers’ that some of the large diameter pipes ride on to allow for movement. These added safety features would help keep the building structurally sound in the event of a high magnitude earthquake.
Instead of one large structure, the building is in multiple connected sections.
“The hospital was built on expansion joints to allow for any type of shifting,” Seaver said. “The doorways in the hospital are sitting on two plates that can shift independently, which would prevent the building from collapsing if we were directly hit with an earthquake.”
DGMC survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and Seaver can attest to the strength in design.
“I was at David Grant when the last big earthquake hit the Bay Area,” he said. “DGMC shook, but had no damage at all to the infrastructure or utilities.”
With fires becoming more prevalent in California, fire safety is now a hot topic within emergency management.
“This past year, wildfires have risen right next to earthquakes at the top of the list of threats,” Anderson said. “If a fire comes right up to the building, it can be more dangerous in some instances to move a patient, even if the facility has been damaged. Those are big decisions that the commander has to make.”
Updates to fire alarm systems within DGMC make it easier to pinpoint any alert notification.
“We can look at a computer graphic of the entire hospital and see a device and its location for faster response from hospital engineers and the fire department when the alarm is activated,” Seaver said. “The old system would only report what zone the activation was in, which made it very time-consuming to find the exact location for all parties responding to the alarm.”
DGMC is part of the National Disaster Medical System, a joint program between four federal agencies: Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
“We are a federal coordinating center,” Anderson said. “We are one of the three that are owned by the Air Force. The other two include Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and Keesler AFB, Mississippi. We can work with medical centers in the area to either move some of our patients out to other hospitals in the event of natural disaster or even a terrorist attack or, possibly, take patients into our facility if space is available.”
Working with the community to build effective disaster preparedness plans ensures the hospital is ready for anything.
“Coordinating with hospitals, county and state authorities to make sure that we are able to cover any kind of event is important,” Anderson said. “We have had some near misses, especially with some of the fires that have come dangerously close to the base this past year.”
Providing a full spectrum of care to a prime service area of more than 130,000 TRICARE eligible patients and 500,000 Department of Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System patients, DGMC has planned to assist the local communities to the best of their ability if ever activated.
“There is a clause that allows the wing commander to act under certain situations to save life, to prevent or mitigate significant suffering or mitigate significant property damage,” Anderson said. “If the wing commander at any time thinks that bringing people on base would prevent significant suffering or damage, we could open up the hospital to the local community for a limited amount of time, which is about 48 hours, without further approval from higher headquarters Air Force.”
This would give the federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, enough time to step in and take over the care of patients.
“Sharing notes with the community is significant in that when something happens, you may only have minutes to act,” Anderson said. “To have already pre-coordinated a plan, to know exactly who to call, is a huge benefit so you aren’t flailing. Through county meetings, through joint exercises, through phone calls, we have made contact with everyone we would need to contact in an emergency and have practiced how we would handle any type of disaster.”