Safety

Consider these options for corpse storage during emergency response

Hospital Safety Insider, March 17, 2010

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The January earthquake in Haiti ravaged a city and left hundreds of thousands dead and injured, quickly overwhelming healthcare services. A few weeks later, a power plant explosion rocked Middletown, CT, putting the local hospital into emergency response mode.
 
Although unrelated, these two disasters nonetheless provide a strong case for planning ahead about how to handle actual or potential mass fatalities.
 
Joint Commission emergency management standard EM.02.02.11, element of performance 7, requires hospitals to plan for managing mortuary services during a disaster, particularly should an incident escalate within the community. 
 
Although the United States may never see a death toll approaching that from Haiti’s earthquake, even several hundred deaths in a community would overrun most morgues. Some hospitals have storage shelf areas that can be cleared and temporarily used to hold bodies. Other sites anticipate using outdoor staging areas; if that approach is used, isolate the area from onlookers to maintain the privacy of the victims.
 
Following the Connecticut power plant explosion, Middlesex Hospital, a 275-bed community facility in Middletown, was quickly put on alert about a potential mass casualty event, says Jim Hite, the facility’s emergency planner and director of safety and security.
 
Hite also had concerns about cadavers from this incident. Although a field morgue was set up at the power plant, he knew the hospital might be asked to store corpses. The facility’s morgue capacity is 10 bodies, but the building has a utility hookup that allows refrigerated trucks to connect to hospital systems at the loading dock. 
 
Beyond refrigeration trucks, there are several other good choices for temporarily storing mass fatalities. Beverage and beer distributors, cold storage warehouses, refrigerated rail cars, and mortuary emergency cooling systems (also called MERC units) are all worth investigating in your community, says John B. Linstrom, MIFireE, CHS-III, executive director at The Linco Group, LLC, an emergency management consulting firm in Apple Valley, CA.
 
Subscribers to Briefings on Hospital Safety can read more tips, including why you shouldn’t use ice rinks for cadaver storage, thoughts on choosing incident commanders wisely, and how Middlesex Hospital dealt with a last-minute victim surge after its emergency operations center had closed.
 
Briefings on Hospital Safety is part of all subscriptions to the online Hospital Safety Center. If you’re not a subscriber, try out our 14-day free trial.



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