Regional Emergency Medical Services Systems and Disaster Medical Response Teams
The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Department of Homeland Security recognized the need to develop a statewide “mutual aid” system for private or public utility ambulance disaster response immediately after the federal evacuation of Hurricane Katrina survivors to Camp Gruber, and the Oklahoma response to Hurricane Rita, both in 2005. Other major incidents in recent history have shocked our conscience and helped us realize that none of us can “go it alone” with regard to disaster response; the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing; the massive tornadoes of1999 in the Oklahoma City area; the wildfire disasters of 2006 and ice storms and floods of 2007. Ambulances are an important disaster response partner. However, in a disaster, local agencies will likely be adversely affected to the point that they may be unable to respond even to their own communities.
The need to develop a coordinated approach to manage requests, movement and support of ambulances in a disaster presented itself in several instances in recent years although none of these events required the movement of large numbers of vehicles. The establishment of Camp Gruber and Falls Creek as major evacuation centers significantly renewed coordination as an issue. Many private sector ambulances responded from various parts of Eastern and Southern Oklahoma to assist in the evacuation needs in those areas. Few providers were reimbursed for actual costs incurred in their response to these evacuation centers.
We recognize that Oklahoma does not exist in a vacuum. We have seen in the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the hurricane responses of 2005 that a coordinated regional response works best for the needs of the emergency locale as well as providing for the continuing emergency response capabilities in our home districts. We see the need to be prepared for regional response to pandemic flu outbreak and other biological disasters.
In 2006, Governor Brad Henry commissioned the Governor’s EMS Task Force to determine the reasons for the demise of a large number of ambulance services and how to stem that trend. Among other recommendations for system improvement and development, the Task Force recommended the development of regional ambulance strike teams to respond to natural and man-made disasters within the State and outside the state as well.