Wash. officials prepare for medical emergencies at music festival

Public health, fire, and EMS officials plan for heat-related illness, intoxication, and other problems during 'MumFoo'

By Sheila Hagar
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Before a single note is played at this summer’s Gentlemen of the Road Stopover music festival in Walla Walla, an army of local, regional and far-flung providers will have worked for months on event safety.

On Friday medical, public health and fire department officials met to continue creating a big-picture plan to ensure the Aug. 13-15 event featuring Mumford & Sons and Foo Fighters goes as smoothly as possible for residents and concertgoers alike.

Although nearly five months away, the concert is already shaping up to be big, even by Stopover standards — 12,000 of an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 tickets to be sold have been purchased, said Harvey Crowder, director of Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. If all are sold, the attendance would more than double Walla Walla’s population for the weekend

“We’ve been told Walla Walla has the most tickets sold of any of the U.S. sites,” Crowder said.

Among the multitude will be those who might require medical care, and now is the time to blueprint how that will be accomplished, he said.

At the top of the list for probable health issues is heat-related problems and alcohol intoxication. Injuries from falls, seizures, substance-induced trauma and pregnant women are also on the list.

Walla Walla health officials will need to decide if their employees will treat on site or “scoop and run,” using ambulances to get victims to emergency rooms.

Both options have pros and cons, the group noted. Treating patients at the music venues, while ideal for many of the health issues expected to crop up, will require hospitals and clinics to staff those stations and make collecting payment very difficult.

But taking everyone to Providence St. Mary Medical Center or Walla Walla General Hospital could call for more ambulances than available locally now and tangle traffic even more.

Any and all answers are going to tax the health care system here, perhaps leading to canceling employee vacation days and asking for help from local nursing students, volunteers and regional medical facilities, meeting attendees agreed.

Water will be the best medicine of all. Misting stations will reduce incidents of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, said Susan Leathers, trauma coordinator at St. Mary. Large caches of bottled water to distribute also will help.

What goes in must come out, however. Early plans call for 400 porta-potties to dot the downtown and Whitman College Athletic Field music venues as well as Veterans Memorial Golf Course, which will be turned into a large campground for overnighters. That number exceeds what is legally required.

“The state only says one porta-potty for every 500 people,” Crowder said, but added “that’s a very long line.”

Health department inspectors also will be busy checking food vendors for sanitation standards under licensing requirements, he said.

Then there’s the question of what to with U.S. Highway 12, which runs between Veterans Memorial Golf Course and the concert grounds. The plan is to ask the Washington Department of Transportation to temporarily reduce the speed limit to 45 mph.

And while there is a walking tunnel under the highway, it is inevitable some people will try to cross the busy road, said Walla Walla Fire Department Deputy Chief Brad Morris. For those people, law enforcement officers will be stationed on both sides of the highway, part of what planners think will be 60 or so officers on duty at any one time during the event.

The fire department also has engaged the Incident Management Team, part of the emergency response operation in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. The team is used in emergency situations that overwhelm local resources, said Walla Walla Fire Department Fire Department Chief Bob Yancey.

“They come in and take over the management,” he said. “We’re part of the team, but they come in with the resources and help with the planning. It means not having to reinvent the wheel.”

With a lot more planning to come, at this point getting plans in place is more wiggly than “trying to nail Jell-O to a tree,” Crowder said. “Right now the Jell-O is still in the box and the water hasn’t boiled. But I wanted to get started now.”

©2015 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

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