News

Mass General volunteers prepare for emergencies at Obama inauguration

The call to help

12/Jan/2009

Dr. Briggs at Ground Zero in IMSuRT gear

The inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States is a milestone expected to draw millions of people to Washington, D.C. A group of Massachusetts General Hospital caregivers will be on hand for the historic event. But they will not be among the busloads of supporters, or crowds on the subway, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the new President. They are volunteering their time and medical skills to ensure the health and safety of the throngs of people crammed on the National Mall and throughout the capital.

The caregivers – including doctors, nurses, administrators and pharmacists – are part of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT). Susan M. Briggs, MD, a trauma surgeon at Mass General, is leading the team of 43 individuals at the behest of the U.S. Government’s Department of Health and Human Services and the National Disaster Medicine Service. Organizers in the capital acknowledge the complexity of today’s mass casualty incidents, particularly the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and are drawing upon IMSuRT’s multidisciplinary world-class medical and surgical expertise in case of such an emergency.

“We definitely hope that there will be no mass casualty event at the inauguration,” says Briggs. “But our team will be prepared for such an emergency, as well as treating the incidental injuries or illnesses that may occur with such high numbers converging on the Mall.”

With sponsorship from Mass General, Briggs founded IMSuRT in 1999. The emergency response team has volunteers affiliated with three academic medical centers throughout the country that are known individually as IMSuRT East, South and West. While many of the volunteers on this project are Mass General staffers with IMSuRT East, this deployment in Washington, D.C., includes volunteers from all three groups working together as a single team. They will be erecting and staffing the only field hospital on the Mall, a 60-bed temporary facility with mobile equipment, pharmaceuticals and blood products.

IMSuRT is widely recognized as a specialized team, trained and equipped to establish a fully capable field surgical facility anywhere in the world. In the past, teams have been deployed to treat victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City, as well as natural disasters such as the tsunami in Indonesia and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. In 2004, for example, 58 volunteers spent 10 days in Bam, Iran, helping victims of a devastating earthquake. An estimated 30,000 people died and an additional 20,000 people were injured in the 6.6 trembler during a very cold time of the year. IMSuRT volunteers treated more than 900 people. Briggs noted that simple heartwarming events also can occur during these trips to devastated regions. She said, “One of the most wonderful things was to see the spirit of the people around the camp when a new baby came, because life goes on."

Since volunteers have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, managers and coworkers at Mass General are flexible and able to accommodate for staff members delivering disaster care around the world. This time, the IMSuRT team will be shipping out a day or two before the inauguration to erect the tents that will serve as the temporary hospital. All volunteers, from the physicians to the logistical managers, chip in to help get the facility operational. The team will be poised and in position by the morning of the event. If all goes as planned, the group should be able to head home soon after the events surrounding the inauguration conclude and the doctors, nurses and other caregivers will be able to step back into their “day jobs” at Mass General.

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