Combined training effort confirms teamwork

Published on LCDR Darren Mallett (author), TSGT Araceli Alarcon (photographer)

Australian Defence Force personnel gather onboard USNS Mercy to start the humanitarian civic assistance mission in the Asia-Pacific region.  (photo: Tech. Sgt. Araceli Alarcon)
Australian Defence Force personnel gather onboard USNS Mercy to start the humanitarian civic assistance mission in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian and United States personnel involved in PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2015 onboard hospital ship USNS Mercy have exercised their cooperative response to a notional disaster as part of their training for the real thing.

United States Naval Ship Mercy, a 300-bed hospital ship which can expand capacity to 1,000 beds if required, is currently deployed to the south-west pacific and South East Asia, where it is visiting Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Vietnam. 

Commander of the Australian contingent onboard is Medical Administrator Commander Ken Walters.

“Beside the massive amount of real world medical and engineering assistance to needy communities that the PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP mission delivers, we believe that it is vital to prepare for unexpected disasters as well,” Commander Walters said.

“Onboard USNS Mercy, the opportunity to bring such a large number of international medical and logistic specialists together was the perfect chance to invent a scenario and ensure we would be ready for any type of situation.”

Good disaster preparedness requires that all major hospitals have a comprehensive disaster plan which is regularly reviewed and exercised. 

With a full range of emergency, surgical, medical, intensive care and aeromedical retrieval capability onboard Mercy, the ship is equipped as well as the best hospitals in first world metropolitan cities. 

Captain Christopher Engdahl (centre), mission commander for Pacific Partnership 2015, has a laugh with supporting partners from the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy and Project Hope during a meeting on the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) for Pacific Partnership 2015.

Captain Christopher Engdahl (centre), mission commander for Pacific Partnership 2015, has a laugh with supporting partners from the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy and Project Hope during a meeting on the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) for Pacific Partnership 2015.

More than 650 medical personnel, including 21 Australians, are embarked in Mercy, ensuring the ship is well equipped for the humanitarian role it is tasked with.

The humanitarian role is not the only one it must be prepared for, as Mercy could be redirected at any time to respond to a disaster in a nearby country.

“To test our readiness for such an event, we have already conducted a realistic training exercise,” Commander Walters said.

Royal Australian Navy doctor, Commander Darren Delaney, and the US Navy’s Commander Lisa Kelty, designed and ran a mass casualty exercise which tested all facets involved in responding to a situation that might be typical of one Mercy could be tasked to respond to.

“The scenario involved a notional explosion on a vessel 30 miles from Mercy, resulting in 16 injured ‘patients’ being transferred to the ship,” said Commander Delaney.

“After the initial request, and the establishment of command and control arrangements, ‘patients’ were brought to Mercy by the ship’s helicopters,” he said.

“On arrival, the ‘patients’ were managed from initial triage through stabilisation, initial diagnostics and treatment, to final disposition.”

Commander Walters and another experienced disaster response evaluator, Australian Navy Captain Andy Robertson, assessed the exercise and provided guidance on areas for improvement for the next exercise or any future disaster response.

The US and Australian contingents are now planning for the next exercise, expected during the transit from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines, which should test the ship’s mass casualty response capability even further.