Hospitals radios to keep lines open in case of emergency

Long before the first shots of the Iraqi War were fired, Prince William and Potomac hospitals along with other area hospitals were working to ensure that they would be prepared if repercussions of those actions were felt here.

The 13 members of the Northern Virginia Hospital Alliance announced this week that they all now have 800-megahertz radios that could be used in the event of a terrorist attack, a mass-casualty event or other disasters, such as a plane crash.

“We had our radio 10 days before the war started,” said John Gallagher, director of customer services and telecommunications for Prince William Hospital in Manassas.

“This was a good effort by all of the hospitals. It came together quickly before anything started [in Iraq],” Gallagher said. “Luckily we haven’t had to use them.”

Potomac Hospital also has received its radio.

If other lines of communications were down or overwhelmed by the large number of calls being made, as they were on Sept. 11, 2001, area hospitals will be able to talk to each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week by using the radios.

This emergency radio link has been a major priority since the alliance was formed following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, said Mike Wyrick, spokesman for the alliance.

The radios now in place in the hospitals are temporary ones donated to them by Fairfax County. Fairfax County also is allowing the hospitals use of its radio system until the hospitals can purchase systems of their own.

The hospitals are keeping their radios in the emergency room departments where the first patients of a disaster would be brought.

“This is not to be used for routine calls,” Gallagher said.

Instead, it would be used during a large-scale disaster by the hospitals to check on patient bed availability or to relay information on the types of health conditions each hospital is treating, Gallagher said.

The radios also would provide a link to the hospital alliance’s command center, MedCom, at Inova Fairfax Hospital. The center would be activated if necessary.

Prince William and the other hospitals check their radio system once a day to ensure it is working.

The Prince William County Police Department is switching its communication system to the new digital 800-megahertz system either this spring or summer. When it does, both Potomac and Prince William hospitals will be linked to the county dispatcher through a second radio separate from the alliance one.

Other alliance members aside from Potomac and Prince William hospitals include: DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Fauquier Hospital, Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, Loudoun Hospital Center, Mary Washington Hospital, Northern Virginia Community Hospital, Reston Hospital and Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington.

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