Military News

Monday, July 27, 2015

PATRIOT exercise tests infectious disease transfer, demonstrates new capabilities

by Delanie Stafford
55th Wing Public Affairs

7/27/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb -- The Air National Guard used a C-17 to transport three simulated patients with highly infectious illnesses from Volk Field Wisconsin to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska July 23.

This was all part of an annual exercise called PATRTIOT 15, an interagency field training exercise used to practice domestic operations within the United States.

Offutt's role in the exercise was to coordinate the reception of the aircraft and to provide a safe and secure airfield for the transfer of the patients.

"Overall, we think the exercise went very well," said Lt. Col. Chris Luther, 55th Wing Crisis Action Team director, who oversaw the exercise and led the first Ebola patient reception into Offutt in 2014. "It was a collaborate effort with local emergency response agencies that reinforced our preparedness for such an event."

The exercise included aeromedical evacuation of patients. In addition to training, the exercise was also used to demonstrate the Transport Isolation Unit, which is a newly developed piece of equipment that became operational earlier this year.

Each module of the TIS can be configured to carry up to four patients at a time, depending on the degree of their illness, and three modules make up one unit. The unit provides an enclosed negative pressure environment intended to prevent the spread of biological contaminates through the air or by contact.

Until recently, patients with illnesses such as the Ebola virus disease and SARS could only be transported by a single-occupancy patient isolation unit that limited the type of care that could be given.

"We can provide critical care in the air, inside the TIS, that other units really aren't capable of doing," said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kory Cornum, Air Mobility Command Surgeon.  "So it gives us not only capability for more patients, but care during transport."

The Department of Defense is in the process of acquiring more of the units and hopes to have 25 available by the end of the year. Each unit can be loaded onto a C-17 or C-130 aircraft for the transfer of multiple critical-care patients anywhere in the world.

"Last year we had several thousand people in Liberia potentially exposed to Ebola,"Cornum said. "That's when we realized [the single patient isolation unit] wasn't good enough."

More than 50 people from UNMC, Offutt AFB, and local medical response agencies attended a demonstration inside the cargo area of a C-17 during a pause in the exercise. Doctors from the Critical Care Air Transport Team, assigned to the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, gave demonstrations on personal protective equipment and how their team will use the system to transport and treat the most critical patients.

Staff from UNMC's Biocontainment Unit, which is the largest unit in the nation, were impressed by the demonstration and capabilities of the new unit.

"This is exciting and an honor for [UNMC] to be here and to be involved on the receiving end," said Dr. Phillip Smith, medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at UNMC. "This is just a way to keep getting ready because you never know when you're going to get the call."

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