Naval Medical Center Portsmouth prepares staff for possible CBRN attacks

The Naval Medical Center Portsmouth began training staff on April 22 to treat patients in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.

Twenty-five staff members, already certified at an Operator Level in Hazardous Waste Operations, were trained on how to respond to a CBRN attack last week. This is the beginning of the NMCP's mission to have 118 people trained on how to respond to such emergencies. With the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas and threatening letters sent to officials in Washington, D.C. and Mississippi in mind, time is of the essence to get response teams trained and prepared, officials said.

"In the event that something happens, we want to have a decontamination team that can safely decontaminate our patients so we can treat them safely in our hospital and not put our staff at risk," Operations Chief Laurence Melvin said. "It is good to have the training for our mission capability and, more importantly, for taking care of our patients the best we can."

The class, taught by CBRN instructor Theresa Casey, focused on teaching staff how to respond in a real attack situation, where a frantic mob would run to a medical facility for treatment. To avoid endangering the life of staff and patients in the hospital, first-site-contact decontamination methods were taught.

The three-day training covered how to maintain and repair decontamination equipment, how to distinguish between agents and resulting symptoms and hands-on training on how to successfully decontaminate someone within the 20 minute time limit.

"The desired outcome would be that these 25 folks feel very comfortable with their capability if something happened," Casey said. "We've had two examples in the past week where this knowledge would have been very useful for a community hospital or a medical center. So these students - NMCP staff - need to feel comfortable and confident in their skills."

After the three days, training continued for NMCP leaders for two additional days, training them on more advanced skills to prepare for an event many hope will never occur.