Emergency preparedness manager trains for crises

Carolyn Wells, serving as the trauma and emergency preparedness program manager for Liberty Hospital, encourages education and planning to be proactive before an emergency hits.

LIBERTY — Carolyn Wells, manager of the trauma and emergency preparedness program for Liberty Hospital, has the significant task to make sure her fellow employees and the patients at the hospital will be safe in a crisis.

Emergency management directors prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also help lead the response during and after emergencies, often in coordination with public safety officials, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Most emergency management directors work for state or local governments. However, others may work for private companies, hospitals or nonprofit organizations.

In this role, Wells spends time with other regional and state leaders, including serving on committees that handle some of those scenarios that might happen. As an example, the local region will have a tornado drill in October. While weather tends to be the most common larger-scale threat, emergency preparedness covers a wide swath.

“It might be a hazardous material spill on the highway that results in mass casualties,” she said. “Luckily, we have not had such an event. In recent memory, the Hyatt skywalk collapse in 1981 is an example. I was a brand new ER nurse at that time.”

Most of the time, the hospital will see two or three cars in an accident she said, but the goal is to train for worst-case scenarios.

“It’s about protecting ourselves from an active shooter,” Wells said. “With September being National Emergency Preparedness Month, FEMA wants us all to be thinking ahead of the time to how we would respond to an event. That’s why I help teach other first responders. I also enjoy setting up community classes to teach lessons such as Stop the Bleed and working with kids at Liberty Fall Festival on first aid skills.

What would surprise people most to learn about your job?

“How much planning it takes,” Wells said. “When you have to plan for an organization the size of Liberty Hospital, it takes everyone else getting on board, too.”

What do you like best about your position or this field in particular?

“I really enjoy the interaction with the community,” she said. “Then there is the first responders community, too. I like when I can reach people and give them some piece of education to take away.”

Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this field or position?

“I grew up with my dad being a doctor and my mom was a nurse,” Wells said. “So nursing was right. I have always been a planner and goal oriented. I didn’t realize this specific aspect of the career field so maybe 10-year-old me would be a little surprised, but probably not too surprised.”

Outside of the workplace, what tips you off that someone is another emergency preparedness leader?

“I suppose there’s a little bit in the conversation and interest,” she said. “I also believe there might be a sign or two about the way they treat other people. It might be in making sure other people have the tools they need. For my parents, it was making sure they had a weather radio. It’s about watching people take storm warnings seriously all while caring for others.”

What’s the most common question you get asked about what you do?

“How does a person get into this field?” Wells answered. “I fell into this field. There are groups like the American College of Surgeons and FEMA that want people to be part of this. If you are interested, look at joining a community emergency response team so you can gain an idea of what it’s like .... You don’t have to be a nurse. Most people are in facilities or security.”

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

“The biggest challenge is to have all the time to do what is needed,” she said. “There are so many facets to this job. There is education and being out in the public while maintaining the needed presence here at the hospital. Overall, it’s critical to get the information out to everyone so they have it before an incident. It’s time to be proactive rather than reactive.”

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