No One Expected a Thunderstorm to Result in an Asthma Outbreak

Posted on Mar 20, 2017

Looking around the curve is vital to modern safety and security solutions, especially in the healthcare industry. How far your organization needs to look and what risks it needs to weigh can often be surprising. Such was the case in the southern hemisphere where an incredible outbreak of asthma from a powerful thunderstorm overwhelmed the city of Melbourne's healthcare officials in a matter of hours. Some quick numbers from Australia tell part of the story as to why:

Safety and Security Solutions | A Thunderstorm Resulted in an Asthma Outbreak</
  • 500 children were brought to a single hospital.
  • 1,900 calls were made to emergency services in a five hour period.
  • There were four fatalities due to the event.
  • 8,500 patients were eventually admitted, many for extended periods of time.

This event affected the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where Professor George Braitberg, the facility's director of emergency services, called the event, "an extraordinary situation; the worse I've experienced in 30 years in the job." Cenk Suphioglu, a local environmental allegorist from nearby Deakin University, called the conditions that led to the asthma outbreak a "perfect storm." 

Researchers were calling the event a result of "thunderstorm asthma." Essentially, with a rare and massive amount of rain around Melbourne over the fall, an infusion of pollen hit the air. This already large and looming amount of pollen was hit by a severe thunderstorm, which broke up and spread the particles quickly. This meteorological event caused extreme asthma and respiratory issues in people who had never even previously had such symptoms.

Local hospitals, including Royal Melbourne, initiated emergency protocols, but in the aftermath, many have questioned whether these were adequate. Experts also considered whether warnings of a possible healthcare situation could have been better conveyed to the public; many of the sick, including those who tragically died during the event, were young and not necessarily obvious victims for a respiratory ailment. Reviews and research over the coming year in Australia look to uncover more resolution and provide a clear path forward in the case of a future event.

Preparing for such an overwhelming event isn't easy; having protocols in place, even for something seemingly so rare, is vital to emergency response and to well-honed safety and security solutions. Having a solid communication system is the first step, as is consistent and practiced situational awareness for personnel responding to an uncommon mass emergency. Consistency and training, as well as set procedures, will help response ability. For more information on healthcare communication solutions such as NC4 Risk Center™ or E Team®, contact the experts at NC4 at 877-624-4999.

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