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An Amtrak train derailed, falling onto busy Interstate 5 during the morning rush hour in Pierce County. Within hours, three people would be declared dead, and 70 patients had been transported to nine different hospitals across three counties, leaving many people – especially victims’ families – to wonder where the accident victims were sent for care.

In mass casualty incidents such as this in King, Pierce and Kitsap counties, the Northwest Healthcare Response Network (the Network) activates its Healthcare Emergency Coordination Center (HECC) to lead the healthcare community’s situational awareness gathering, facilitate resource sharing, and coordinate patient tracking. With a goal of supporting family reunification, patient tracking consists of documenting victim identification (when possible), location, emergency medical services (EMS) transport agency, receiving facility, and medical condition.

The tool used for patient tracking is WATrac, a web-based application. This application enables healthcare systems to track hospital facility status and bed availability on a daily basis, and incident management and situational awareness, including patient tracking, during a disaster response.

During daily operations, participating facilities are encouraged to update their facility status and bed availability in WATrac. During a disaster response, emergency alerts, facility status, and bed tracking features provide agencies and hospitals with information used to direct patient movement. WATrac also offers on-line secure chat rooms for conferencing, information sharing, and situational awareness, which provides an easily accessible tool for real-time communication for participating agencies and healthcare partners.

In the train derailment incident, the Network sent out an emergency alert notifying facilities of the incident and that patient tracking had been activated.

The right tool, coupled with the regional healthcare system’s engagement, resulted in patients getting the right care at the right time and helped to quickly reunite families.

The Washington State Department of Health is the statewide administrator of WATrac. The Network provides direct management for agencies in King, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties and technical support for agencies in Western Washington.

For more information about the HECC and WATrac, including the Network’s online WATrac training videos, visit our Emergency Response page..

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