West Kentucky Healthcare Coalition Coordinates Emergency Response to a Devastating Tornado
The West Kentucky Healthcare Coalition’s preparedness and response efforts, including its pre-determined regional surge response plan and its extensive mobile resources, led to an organized, informed, and successful response to the deadliest December tornado ever recorded in the United States.
“We have a strong coalition that has used hospital surge planning and implementation throughout COVID-19. The last two years of ‘practice’ better prepared our region for the events that occurred the night of December 10, 2021”
Readiness and Response Coordinator for the West Kentucky Healthcare Coalition
The coalition’s activities and role coordinating the response among several partners provided the necessary situational awareness for emergency response teams to access, triage, treat, and relocate hundreds of affected patients within a 171-mile radius across the 24 counties of Western Kentucky.
On the evening of December 10, 2021, the Western region of Kentucky was devastated by an EF4 tornado. The tornado killed over 75 people and injured hundreds of others. Before the tornado touched down, the West Kentucky Healthcare Coalition, a health care coalition (HCC) established through ASPR's Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), had already gotten to work, notifying hospitals, long-term care facilities, and emergency response partners about the potential for inclement weather. The coalition urged general facility readiness and asset preparation, which entailed testing generator functions and promoting the use of back-up communication.
When the tornado hit, the West Kentucky Healthcare Coalition and its response partners sprang into action. The coalition began to organize the response using a modified COVID-19 response plan drafted as part of an HCC surge exercise, which is a requirement under the HPP cooperative agreement. They used an emergency response notification system, to communicate with and provide real-time response updates to hospitals, long-term care facilities, and emergency response teams.
The coalition also deployed HPP-funded resources, such as mobile hospital trailers, to offer additional bed space for hospitals, if needed; sheltering trailers to help support community shelters and an assisted living facility that had to be evacuated; and mobile heaters to provide heat for outdoor community response. The coalition members set up six portable mobile broadband cases, which are used to provide cellular and data service to nearby users during a time when service is affected. These resources supported Emergency Operation Centers’ (EOCs’) efforts and well as field communication after the storm. The cases were moved to multiple EOCs and pharmacies throughout the weeks following the storm, to provide continuity of service and ensure communication mechanisms were in place to triage, treat, and relocate the 438 patients received at hospitals across Kentucky.