Area hospitals raise alert levels

Hospitals in Prince William County have raised their emergency preparedness levels to correspond with the national increase to Code Orange risk status.

Prince William Hospital raised its emergency preparedness level to Level Two, or high risk of terrorist attack. Potomac Hospital is also in a heightened state of alert because of Code Orange.

The increase in preparedness comes after Monday’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which heightened the nation’s alert status to orange.

“We want the community to know we’re actively taking precautions for the safety of our staff and community,” said Mary Beth Gibson, public relations specialist for Prince William Hospital.

While Prince William Hospital remains on the heightened level of alert, visitor access to the hospital is restricted after 9 p.m. Visitors must sign in and out and display visitor badges, unless they are in the emergency room triage area.

Those in ER triage will have their identification checked before they are issued visitor passes.

Prince William Hospital maintains a four-level system of alerts, corresponding with the national color alerts. Should the national alert level rise to red, or severe, Prince William Hospital will correspondingly rise to Level Three. Level Four is reserved for an actual terrorist attack.

Potomac Hospital spokeswoman Charlene Wilkins said that while Potomac Hospital remains in its heightened state of alert, department directors are asked to review their disaster preparedness plans, update their recall lists and maintain contact with the hospital and their division directors via pagers and cell phones.

Hospital staff are also requested to “be watchful of unusual or out of the ordinary activities, and report that immediately,” Wilkins said.

Prince William Hospital is also working with the local health department to form a first-response team in the event of a smallpox outbreak. The hospital claims to be the first in the region to get the protective equipment necessary to deal with a biological or chemical attack.

“The ER is equipped to handle emergencies, but after 9-11, we really moved into high gear,” Gibson said. “We’ve had a couple disaster drills to practice, kind of a dress rehearsal.”

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