Med center, NSRI play role in training exercise

by Taylor Wilson, Nebraska Medicine | April 17, 2017

Image with caption: A plane carrying simulated patients at Eppley Airfield.

A plane carrying simulated patients at Eppley Airfield.

The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit was one of five treatment centers that received patients during a practice drill organized by the U.S. State Department that officially began Monday morning.

During "Operation Tranquil Shift," a total of 11 American citizens suspected of having or having been exposed to a simulated highly infectious disease were transported from Africa to the United States for treatment.

Three mock-patients arrived at Eppley Airfield Wednesday morning. Two of patients arrived separately from Africa on two Gulfstream jets operated by Phoenix Air for the U.S. State Department. A total of four aircraft (the two Gulfstreams that came to Omaha and two 747s) departed from Atlanta and traveled to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

See video from the exercise.

Once patients were retrieved, all aircraft landed at the Washington-Dulles Airport to clear customs before continuing on to one of five receiving facilities across the country, including Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, and UNMC.

Once patients were transferred to ground ambulance teams, the aircraft departed for the next receiving facility or returned to Georgia for decontamination.

The scope of this exercise is unprecedented, and a testament to the lessons learned and changes made in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak.

"This was the next logical step in planning and preparing to transport a large number of patients with a highly infectious disease," said Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency preparedness and infection prevention at Nebraska Medicine. "In November 2016, we successfully transported three patients to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit on one 747. We're applying what we learned during the November drill to make even further improvements during this larger national exercise."

The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI)at the University of Nebraska works closely with the U.S. State Department to facilitate these transport exercises.

"NSRI has assisted the State Department to develop the scenarios and develop a process for improving the transport and patient care process during transit," said Eric Van Gieson, chief technology officer for NSRI.

Two members of the NSRI team were observers onboard the aircraft coming to Omaha and spoke to the media at Eppley Airfield.

The NSRI is one of 13 DoD-authorized University Affiliated Research Centers in the nation. Established in 2012, NSRI is a long-term, strategic partner of its Department of Defense (DoD) sponsor, the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).