Health News

With hurricane season upon us, staying prepared for a potential natural disaster is as important as ever.

Chris Starbuck, the emergency response coordinator for EHCPC, goes over items in an emergency kit.

Chris Starbuck, the emergency response coordinator for Eastern Health Care Preparedness Coalition (EHCPC), said having a plan in place with family and friends can make all the difference in an emergency situation.

“One key point that we want to get across is be prepared. Starting a hurricane kit is the first step in doing so,” Starbuck said. “Make sure that you have all your important documents gathered if you have to evacuate.”

He also points out the importance of planning for more than a day or two: “What if you have to shelter in place for three to seven days because there’s so much flooding?” Starbuck said.

Ready.gov is a federal government website with helpful information about how to properly prepare for a hurricane. Creating a plan that meets the specific needs of your household and building an emergency kit that contains at least 72 hours’ worth of supplies can help you stay adequately prepared for a natural disaster like a hurricane.

What is EHCPC?

At Vidant Health, EHCPC is prepared at all times to work with regional, state and federal officials to ensure it can meet the needs of our region.

EHCPC is a Type II State Medical Assistance Team that can deploy field medical tents, special medical support shelters, chemical decontamination, emergency communications, coordination of healthcare coastal evacuations, and other medical supplies during disasters. It is one of eight such coalitions across the state and is responsible for the largest geographic region statewide, covering one-third of North Carolina.

While the team is proudly Vidant-based, their work is ultimately about being there for eastern North Carolina no matter who needs support or how. The team’s wide range of combined experience, expertise and equipment places them in the role of collaborative lynchpin, pulling resources and teams together to respond in a wide range of disaster scenarios or medical emergencies. This includes working behind the scenes to prepare until the event happens and managing training and the logistics needed for any level of response.

“Relationships and collaboration are key for our deployments to be successful,” said Starbuck. “When activated, we specialize in integrating with the services and teams already in place to help with the response in whatever way is needed.”

Ready to respond

EHCPC vehicles sit out on display.Recently, the team showcased two vehicles critical to the operation with a medical emergency bus and a field communication support truck.

The medical emergency bus can be used to transport many patients in need of assistance at the same time. Twenty stretcher-bound patients can be supported in the ambulance bus at once, and with stretchers removed, there are seats for 25 patients with enough room for five crew members to attend to the patients during the transport.

The field communication support truck provides phone, radio and internet to the mobile emergency bus. Additionally, the truck has filled in during communication outages throughout the Vidant system. Following Hurricane Florence in 2018, Vidant Duplin Hospital was without internet and phone service. The team and the truck were quickly deployed to the area and kept communication running in a time of need.

“We have all the needed tools on here to communicate back regionally, and also with the state Emergency Operation Center,” said Matt McMahon, a disaster and communication specialist. “Additionally, we can communicate back to Vidant no matter where we are in the eastern part of the state.”

A spirit of service

The team’s spirit of service was shown again in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019 when the team went to Ocracoke to set up a Field Medical Station, serving as a relief valve for the local Emergency Department by caring for more minor medical needs. By providing this level of support, the team allowed uninterrupted time for the clinic staff to take care of their homes, families and damaged vehicles before returning to provide care for the community.

“Most of us come from a nursing or paramedic background,” said Stephanie Seals, disaster services specialist responsible for Planning for EHCP. “Serving in this way gives us the opportunity to do what we’ve felt called to do, which is helping people when they need it most, on a broad scale.”

“Ultimately, it’s about the people we get to interact with in a one-on-one capacity and know we’re making a difference,” Chris said. “Our goal is to help people, and for us that includes everything from planning and training to being there when we’re needed most to support or lead.”

To stay up-to-date with the latest information about the team, their work and even how you can get involved, visit their website at https://easternhpc.com/smat/.

Resources

Hurricanes can form quickly. Take the time now, before a hurricane impacts our region, to educate yourself on how to prepare and respond. Below are helpful links for federal and state websites: