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August 5, 2010 Contact: Luke Frank, Media Relations Manager, 505/272-3679; cell 505/907-9525

UNM Created First National Team Following Mount St. Helen’s Disaster

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Volcanoes, earthquakes, fires, floods, terrorist attacks – New Mexico’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team (NM-1 DMAT) has seen it all from the frontlines. This summer, NM-1 DMAT is celebrating 25 years of life-saving, critical first responses to calamities across the globe as the nation’s very first disaster medical assistance team.

DMATs were the first element of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), which is now a federally coordinated system that augments the local medical community during natural and man-made disasters.

DMATs draw on an array of professionals: doctors, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, and others, and travel to a disaster site to provide medical care, staff medical shelters and medical stations, or augment hospital staff when local resources are overwhelmed.

Teams are configured to address disaster-specific medical, environmental and logistical challenges, and often include specialists in crush injuries, hemorrhages and other acute trauma; nurses and pharmacists; safety, security and communications experts; engineers and utility professionals; and transportation and administrative support personnel.

Created in 1984 on the heels of Mount Saint Helens’ violent detonation, the NDMS was tasked with providing emergency and other critical medical services immediately following a disaster. That same year, regional Disaster Medical Assistance Teams were conceptualized to support the NDMS mission.

In meetings across the country, NDMS asked for volunteers to take the lead. UNM’s Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. Paul Roth – who in 1984 was division chief for the SOM’s emergency medicine and chief of emergency services at UNM Hospital – volunteered.

“We weren’t offered any established guidelines or instructions on training, supplies or even team components,” Roth recalls. “We assembled a roster of approximately 200 medical and other volunteers from across the state, from which we would select between 35 and 40 personnel for a deployment – tailoring the team to individual medical, communication and administrative needs of the disaster site.”

A New Mexico DMAT team was quickly assembled based on a military model to ensure infrastructure and logistical needs, as well as medical specialty needs, of a disaster site. Hurricane Hugo’s thrashing of St. Croix in 1989 drew the country’s first NDMS DMAT response, and New Mexico’s team became the nation’s first deployed DMAT to a U.S. disaster site.

Since its formation in 1984 and first deployment in 1989, NM-1 DMAT has responded to the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks; 10 U.S. hurricanes, including Katrina, Andrew and Hugo; earthquakes in Haiti and Northridge, CA; New Mexico’s very own Cerro Grande Fire; the Atlanta and Salt Lake City Olympic Games; and more.

“Fundamentally, we’re just people who want to help other people,” offers NM-1 DMAT Commander Byron Piatt. “But it demands so much more. We only deploy about 35 people at a time, but get unbelievable support from a lot of folks, including our families, work colleagues and employers. There’s real satisfaction in being a part of a collective effort to help people who are in desperate need.” For more information on NM-1 DMAT, visit UNM’s Center for Disaster Medicine athttp://hsc.unm.edu/SOM/cdm/nmdmat.shtmlorwww.dmatnm1.com.


Contact: Luke Frank, 272-3322