UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica’s Hospital Incident Command System, was put to the test Tuesday during an emergency drill that lasted throughout the morning and involved dozens of administrators, doctors and other staff members at the hospital.

As a recipient of the Hospital Preparedness Program grant funding, UCLA Health regularly participates in statewide medical exercises in an effort to practice the hospital’s emergency activation and response procedures.

Complete with command center briefings, mock patients and simulated injuries, the hospital’s 2019 Statewide Medical and Health Exercise was based on a scenario that would likely cause significant injuries in the nearby community.

The Drill Scenario

Drill organizers said prior to the exercise that the group was acting as if a National Weather Service flood watch had been issued for Los Angeles County the week after Thanksgiving as a result of above-average rainfall in Santa Monica over the course of four days.

“On the morning of December 3, a landslide occurred on a 150-foot span of the Palisades Bluffs near Pacific Coast Highway and Montana Avenue. A wooden beach access staircase collapses, and a significant amount of debris falls across Pacific Coast Highway, causing all lanes of traffic to be blocked,” Simi Singer said, reading from the scenario’s script. “Dozens of people are injured and 35 of them are sent to Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.”

The exercise was described by hospital staff as a “no-fault environment” to allow for the participants and procedures to be properly evaluated.

“It’s a teaching drill to make sure we’re regularly prepared and are considering the situations we’d come across if a disaster were to happen in the area,” Singer said, describing how some drill participants were emailing information related to road closures, family reunification points and other pertinent details just as they would in a real-world situation.

Hospital staff working in the various triage areas bandaged mock cuts and addressed “critical injuries” while technicians scrambled to rush patients from the emergency areas to the x-ray. In the command center, the casualty care unit leader provided updates on the number of injuries while other section leaders handled the logistics, planning and safety aspects.

The main focus of the scenario was the community mass casualty incident, but the exercise was also designed to test the communication between the hospital’s command center and impacted departments during prospective hazards, according to Kurt Kainsinger, UCLA Health’s Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Kainsinger oversaw Tuesday’s drill — along with the many others that have occurred in recent years — and said, “A disaster can change day to day or even hour to hour so we have to be on our toes and ensure we can keep up with the changing needs of both the patients and hospital staff should a situation arise like the one we’re acting out today.”

After everyone had the opportunity to share their experiences, Kainsinger said the drill can certainly be described as successful, “because every time we do one of these we learn something new, which helps us improve our responses in case a real-life, large-scale emergency were to happen here.”


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