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Massey Puts Practice into Planning

The well-worn adage in the emergency management profession is exercise, exercise, exercise.

For Mary Massey, that is a mantra to live by. She is working to ensure hospitals have well-practiced plans in place as does the rest of the homeland security enterprise.

Since 2007, Massey assisted in evaluating hospital emergency preparedness through the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). HSEEP is maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Preparedness Directorate, Department of Homeland Security.

The program is designed to apply best practices to all homeland security players, but hospitals have been slow to participate as they are often left out of many of the grant funded exercises where other players assume that only field response needs to be tested. Massey said that their partner’s expectation is often that hospitals will be able to handle any surge of patients resulting from the incident. Massey educates and evaluates the preparedness of medical facilities and staff as to how to operate during a "hospital surge," a large influx of patients during a catastrophic event.

In 2011 Massey developed an HSEEP course specifically for hospitals which she has presented across California and other parts of the country. "I am trying to find a way for them to improve their surge capacity when catastrophic events happen, whether they are natural or manmade," said Massey, a 2005 graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS).

Massey delved into the challenge of hospital surge while studying at CHDS. As a paramedic coordinator in the tourist-destination of Anaheim, Calif., Massey gained expertise in writing policies on issues such as mass decontamination and anti-terror programs. As a CHDS student she applied her policy expertise to treating first responders during a surge. Massey applied her thesis research to administering mass prophylaxis campaigns specifically for first responders. Mass prophylaxis is the capability to protect the health of the population by taking steps to prevent the development of disease among people exposed or potentially exposed to public health threats.

"There was a push to do mass prophylaxis for the country as a whole, but not for the first responders," said Massey, now the Hospital Preparedness Coordinator with the California Hospital Association. "I was trying to see a way where we could do mass prophylaxis for community, but at the same time do so for first responders."

Her thesis realized immediate efficiency that included a full-scale first responder mass prophylaxis exercise that processed about 1,400 people in four hours using existing personnel and the National Incident Management System, specifically, Incident Management System principles at less than a tenth of the cost of other exercises.

In the seven years since graduating from CHDS, she has deployed to multiple wildfire and hurricane responses, including Katrina, worked on projects with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Homeland Security, and served as a Department of Justice instructor on weapons of mass destruction response as well as the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program training.

Part of that work necessitates the kind of collaboration hailed in the classrooms of CHDS. As well as enlisting representation of hospitals and public health, law enforcement, the fire services and even coroners are part of the policy-crafting for mass events. Each profession may have varied expectations of what they need and what their duties are during a catastrophe.

"By bringing partners together and seeing what expectations are, we make policies that meet in the middle for the best community response," she said. "CHDS taught me how to pull groups together to coordinate the different parts of the response."

"It is great to see partners work together and understand exercises aren’t just to check off a box for a grant, it can work to improve our readiness," Massey noted. "You are learning face to face who these partners are and developing the relationships so that when something happens you know who to contact and their response roles."