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UMCP Readies Facility for Terror Alert

Matthew Hersh

With national attention focusing on the tri-state area during the Republican National Convention, hospitals throughout New Jersey, including the University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP), have taken extra measures to assure preparedness in the event of a terror attack.

Since 9/11, the hospital has been engaged in domestic preparedness, creating a facility that can accommodate large numbers of in-coming patients, according to Nancy Panarella, the hospital's director of Emergency Services.

As part of those efforts, the hospital now provides a decontamination unit to treat those subjected to any regional attacks. The four-shower unit attached to the hospital's main facility at 253 Witherspoon Street is also equipped with a portable decontamination tent including an additional four showers that can be set up in "a matter of minutes," Ms. Panarella said adding that the hospital can accommodate up to 219 in-patients.

"If there were to be a chemical spill at one of the local corporations, and/or schools, we would be prepared to take an influx of patients to be decontaminated," she said.

Hospitals throughout the state have been on heightened alert since the 9/11 attacks, but with this week's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, some 54 miles away, preparedness like that in place at Princeton's hospital has increased dramatically throughout the region. "The hospital is in direct contact daily with the [state] Department of Health where we fill out a survey every morning before 10 a.m. and let them know how many beds we have available, the types of beds, and how many isolation rooms," she said.

The program is set up through a hospital network so that the Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy and the rest of the Department of Health know how many patients the hospital can take. If an attack of some form were to occur in New York City, patients coming to UMCP would be filtered through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), and then through Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJ), both in New Brunswick, before coming to the Princeton hospital.

Every hospital in the state is involved in the program, Ms. Panarella said.

The hospital is also equipped with an 800 MHz radio that keeps hospital officials in constant contact with the Mercer County executive office.

In the event of an attack in Manhattan, Ms. Panarella said the hospital would immediately assess the bed situation and patients would be set up in triage units on their way from the city depending on the "severity or acuity of their injury or illness," she said.

"We are not a trauma center, so more acutely ill patients might be sent to a trauma center," she said, adding that UMCP would be able to take patients from other hospitals to make room for "mass casualties."

"We would be able to take casualties from New York that did not require trauma surgery," she said.

Trauma 1 centers like RWJ or UMDNJ have the capacity to care for acutely ill patients who have suffered from trauma injuries such has massive head and abdominal wounds, loss of limbs, or other "catastrophic injuries," Ms. Panarella said.

In the event of a chemical attack, the Emergency Services director said that several mobile decontamination sites would be set up along the Northeast Corridor so many patients could be stabilized before reaching a treatment facility. If it were a local event, however, patients would be decontaminated at the Princeton facility.

Ms. Panarella said that being prepared is the best defense: "Nobody wants anything to happen, it's about being prepared."

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