In early October 2014, the Canadian Red Cross set up a small field hospital, otherwise known as an Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island. I had the opportunity to visit, representing the British Columbia Mobile Medical Unit team (http://bcmmu.ca).
The Red Cross ERU model is an international, standardized, flexible, deployable field hospital that can be configured as a ward, an emergency department, an obstetrical delivery suite, a public health vaccination clinic, and even a trauma operating room (http://www.redcross.ca/what-we-do/emergencies-and-disasters-worldwide/responding-to-international-emergencies/emergency-response-unit). Depending on the nature of the deployment, they can have the pieces assembled and on a plane with a logistics and clinical team within 24-48 hours. They are designed to be self-sufficient (other than fuel and local water supply) for a full month.
The standardization of these modules is a key strength, as the gear is the same whether you are from Norway, Canada, the US, Japan, or any other participating country in the world. This means that trained Red Cross/Red Crescent ERU team members can be deployed to any other country’s ERU mission, and be completely familiar with the equipment, structures and procedures.
Walking into these tents, I was again reminded of the many commonalities there are between what we do when planning for medical operations at a mass gathering, and what is required to deploy for a disaster or humanitarian crisis. So many of the practicalities of communications, equipment, power, water, logistics, sanitation, training, personnel, etc. are challenges shared in both environments.
I still believe that mass gatherings such as music festivals, race finish lines, parades, etc., which occur in communities all over our nation on a regular basis, are a prime opportunity to train, to serve as a “live-fire exercise” for disaster first responders. A few of our team members wrote about this a few years ago in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine in an article titled Mass gathering medicine: a practical means of enhancing disaster preparedness in Canada.
Do you think this is an opportunity worth pursuing? Should the mass gathering medicine community be working more closely with our emergency management and disaster response colleagues? What benefits could be achieved? What inevitable challenges would we face?