CELEBRATING 100: The Cold War Years – Disaster Response Training

March 12, 2020

The Cold War era’s (1947-1991) emphasis on national civil defense permeated hospital administration, as evidenced by articles on how hospitals could expect to react and participate in the event of an attack on the United States. While ultimately unnecessary, these preparations led to hospital states of readiness and what would today be called disaster response training.
Hospitals are the community’s safety net 24 hours a day, every day of the year. When disaster strikes, hospitals must be ready to respond—not only by treating the sick and injured, but also by coordinating with community and regional partners to ensure that medication, supplies, and personnel are deployed to meet the demand for medical services. Government support helps ensure hospitals can provide an immediate and effective response.
In 2002, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) established the Wisconsin Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Program (WHEPP) through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As administered by DHS in partnership with the WHA and other stakeholders, WHEPP’s mission is to support the emergency preparedness efforts of hospitals and other health care partners by providing equipment, supplies, resources, training and infrastructure.
In 2014, Wisconsin established seven health care emergency readiness coalition regions (HERCs) to coordinate how public health, health care institutions, and first responder agencies, such as police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS), will manage their efforts to enact a uniform and unified response to an emergency, including a mass casualty or other catastrophic event.
A health care emergency readiness coalition is a group of health care organizations, public safety and public health partners that join forces for the common goal of making their communities safer, healthier, and more resilient.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association has been a source of information and support for its members for 100 years during times of potential disasters and other health-related crises. 
The following is an excerpt from a WHA newsletter from February 5, 1959. It was a column written by J. R. McGibony, Medical Director Chief, Division of Medical and Hospital Resources, Public Health Services. He presented at the mid-year conference of the American Hospital Association in Chicago. 
The United States lived with the fear of an atomic attack and preparedness was at an all-time high. Mr. McGibony talks of how this task would be difficult with an adequate complement of resources. In 1959 it was even more difficult because hospital services had been staggering under a backlog of inadequacies and problems resulting from the Great Depression years and World War II. They were approaching a new threshold – beginning to emerge from this situation just as the nation faced its gravest crisis in its history.
“Leadership must come from the hospitals themselves and from those closely associated with the provision of such services for the fullest utilization of all skills and energies.
The magnitude of the job ahead is best expressed in the expected results from an atomic attack. In a surprise daylight attack, a bomb exploding 2000 feet above the average metropolitan area, could produce the following results:
  • 120,000 casualties killed and injured.
  • 1/2 or 40,000 would be killed outright or die the first day.
  • The 2/3 or 80,000 surviving casualties would require medical care. Many of these would be suffering from multiple injuries.
    1. 20,000 of this group would die within a period of 5-6 weeks but would require medical care.
    2. 60% or 48,000 would be suffering from burns.
    3. 50% or 40,000 would be suffering from mechanical injuries.
    4. 20% or 16,000 would be suffering from radiation sickness and injuries.
  • Of the total 80,000 living casualties, about 30,000 would need first aid only and could be considered ambulatory.
  • Not less than 55,000 would require hospital care.
  • Probably one-half of existing hospital facilities would be destroyed
It is anticipated that the ambulatory casualties requiring first aid treatment only would be cared for at the series of first aid stations circumscribing the devastated area. Those casualties requiring hospital care would either have to be cared for in the remaining hospital structures, in temporary emergency hospitals set up in schools, hotels or other improvised or converted buildings, or evacuated to other communities.
It is immediately imperative that hospitals and hospital authorities undertake at least the following specific steps:
  • Organize on an area or regional basis. This should include all such groups within not less than a 100-mile radius of a strategic or potential target center.
  • Establish a central committee to direct the formulation of a hospital program for defense.
  • Correlate both organization and activities within the framework of responsibilities and functions of other Civil Defense authorities.
  • Collect information regarding existing services within the region.

This story originally appeared in the March 12, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter