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Around Johns Hopkins: Readying Howard County General in Case of a Crisis

Gene Mellin, emergency management director
at Howard County General Hospital

While there are other hospitals in surrounding counties, Howard County General Hospital is the sole hospital in a county with more than 300,000 estimated residents — and this doesn’t include those who commute to the county for work.

Gene Mellin, Howard County General’s emergency management director, is well aware that the chances are high of the hospital getting an influx of patients in the event of a nearby mass casualty incident, such as a shooting or a highway incident on interstates 70 or 95.

For more than seven years, Mellin has managed the hospital’s emergency preparedness and response efforts. He recently responded to questions from CEPAR about his role and efforts at Howard County General.

What does your job at Howard County General entail?

I manage the hospital’s comprehensive emergency management program to ensure we are prepared to respond to situations that could impact our ability to care for our patients or affect our visitors and staff. The program addresses the four phases of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. I work with the emergency management committee and other hospital staff to develop plans and procedures, train staff, plan and facilitate drills and exercises, organize incident response and recovery efforts, identify vulnerabilities and develop mitigation strategies. All these efforts help us comply with regulations and Joint Commission requirements.

In addition to emergency management, I collaborate with the Department of Health, Safety and Environment at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to provide safety compliance support and assistance when necessary at Howard County General. I’m also a member of the hospital’s Environment of Care Committee and lead biweekly rounds throughout the hospital focused on ensuring compliance with standards established by The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

How did you become interested in emergency management?

My first involvement in emergency management was in the 1980s when, as a firefighter, I assisted local schools and businesses with developing emergency plans. My interest grew from there, and since then, I’ve been involved in emergency management or response in one way or another through local and county fire service, county emergency management and as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) safety cadre member deployed after a federally declared disaster, as well as a FEMA contractor.

What are some of the unique emergency preparedness challenges Howard County General faces?

Howard County General is in close proximity to several busy venues such as Merriweather Post Pavilion, which draws large crowds several times a week from May to October. These events often coincide with other events in the area. Because we are the only hospital in the county with a busy emergency department, coordination among police, fire and rescue partners is extremely important and requires advance planning and collaboration.

How do you plan emergency preparedness drills at Howard County General?

Our emergency/disaster drills and exercises are based on our hazard vulnerability analysis, which outlines crises our hospital is most likely to face, and gaps identified in after-action reports. A multidisciplinary team at Howard County General helps develop a scenario, and we build an exercise plan based on FEMA Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation guidelines. For larger exercises, we typically employ the services of a consultant to assist with exercise facilitation and evaluation.

What is one of the more recent exercises you planned?

Our most recent full-scale exercise was in July 2019. The scenario was a plane crash into Merriweather Post Pavilion during a graduation, which resulted in a mass casualty incident made worse by an internal emergency at Howard County General. We had great participation from police, fire and the county public school system as well as the Johns Hopkins Office of Emergency Management and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services. While some gaps were identified, our staff responded well to the scenario, and the incident management team did a great job of coordinating resources. One area we identified was the need to work with the school system to develop a plan for managing school-related mass casualty incidents. We will be working with the school system to incorporate after-action and improvement plan recommendations from the exercise into the next revision of our emergency response plan. Mass casualty incidents can be challenging, and those involving schoolchildren even more so.

What is next for emergency management at Howard County General?

In our new building, which will open in January 2020, we will have a large storage room that will allow the consolidation of our disaster supplies and equipment in one area, and we will commission a new state-of-the-art command center conference room. Both will allow for increased efficiency and result in significant improvements for our emergency management programs and preparedness efforts.

Related Articles:
Preparing for Hurricanes and Other Emergencies at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
Leading the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Emergency Preparedness Efforts
Getting Ahead of Emergencies at Johns Hopkins Bayview
Preparing for the Unexpected (Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Emergency Management)
Preparing for Emergencies at Suburban Hospital

Read more news and information from CEPAR’s Hopkins on Alert.