In face of cuts, Ebola flights remind that Dobbins a key facility
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
August 09, 2014 04:00 AM | 3624 views | 1 1 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THIS WEEK’S high-profile mercy flights bringing a pair of Ebola-stricken American health workers from Africa to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta also served as a reminder of the key role Dobbins Air Reserve Base plays in times of emergency. And it opens questions of what the impact would be on public health if the Marietta base is closed by the Obama administration and Congress as a cost-cutting measure.

The two flights in question would have been much more of a logistical challenge had they landed at a commercial field. Such considerations would be multiplied many times over if the emergency in question involved not just two victims, but hundreds or even thousands.

Think such a scenario “can’t happen here”? Then think again — because it already has. And not just once. Or even twice. It’s happened three times already just within the past decade.

Dobbins played an vital role in the way the country responded first to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then later that year to the toll of Hurricane Rita, and then again as the U.S. stepped in to help the victims of the devastating earthquakes in Haiti in 2010. Military and commercial flights arrived every couple hours at Dobbins after Katrina, for example, each laden with up to 150 hospital patients or other evacuees, and sometimes their pets as well. From there, they were shuttled to nearby hospitals and shelters.

“Dobbins is a critical resource not only for metro Atlanta but for the entire Southeast region,” says Pam Blackwell, R.N., who is director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Cobb-Douglas Public Health and who formerly was state trauma director for the Georgia Office of Emergency Medical Services.

“It has a 5,000-foot runway. It can handle the medical people on-base. We are extremely well coordinated in Cobb and the northwest counties in terms of hospitals, police and EMS.”

Her agency takes the lead in handling the medical response to catastrophic events, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, pandemics, or chemical, biological and/or nuclear attack.

“So Dobbins is a key player in terms of being able to move patients and equipment and manpower when needed,” she said.

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DOBBINS’ runway formerly was shared not just by Lockheed Martin but also by the Naval Air Station Atlanta. But the NAS was closed during the most recent round of cuts by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Now another round of cuts is coming, and Dobbins is perceived by many to be vulnerable. But closing it would be a huge mistake, Blackwell argues.

Not only is the base easy to secure compared to a commercial airport, it also is just a stone’s throw from an interstate. And while there are other military bases in the Southeast large enough to handle the influx of emergency flights, Dobbins’ trump card is the fact it is within minutes of several of the largest trauma centers, emergency rooms and hospitals in the region, including WellStar Kennestone in Marietta, Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Piedmont Hospital, Emory Hospital and the other hospitals in the WellStar system. Not only that, and unlike most of their small-city counterparts, they specialize in treating burns and spinal cord injuries of the type typically seen following such tragedies.

“We have a huge number of beds that could be called on,” said Blackwell, who has been with CDPH since 1998 and has 35 years’ experience in emergency medicine and trauma care. “If you’re going to activate this kind of system, you have to be able to have the bed capacity for the patients.”

“So Dobbins is not just a community asset, but an asset to the whole Southeast, and I can’t imagine us not having it available. And I hope that when the ‘powers that be’ look at it, that the community can make the case for how important that base is as a strategic asset for regional preparedness and response.”

She’s not alone.

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STACKING ARMS: Historian Willie Ray “Swampy” Johnson, a fixture at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park for the past 40 years, has retired.

The park historian position at the park will remain unfilled, according to Superintendent Nancy Walther.

Johnson, who lives with his wife, Margaret, on the Gilgal Church battlefield in the Due West community of west Cobb, began working at the park part time as a historic interpreter and law enforcement ranger in 1974. His “day job” was serving as a history teacher at South Cobb High School, and by the time of his 1999 retirement, he was head of the school’s history faculty. He then went full time at the park as historian and was instrumental in the opening of the expanded museum at the battlefield 15 years ago.

Johnson — who sports a beard bushy enough to do a Civil War general proud — also has overseen the park’s black-powder artillery program since ’74 and plans to continue serving on its cannon crew after his retirement.

Johnson’s official last day at the park was July 31, but he’ll be there again at 10 a.m. Sunday for a brief public reception prior to volunteering from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the park’s cannon crew.

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FINAL NUMBERS are in from the recent 150th anniversary commemoration weekend at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. More than 23,000 people attended programs in the park that weekend, and more than 400 volunteers gave more than 3,000 hours’ worth of service to the park during the three-day weekend, according to Walther.

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PEOPLE: Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and retired Sheriff Bill Hutson this weekend are mourning Thursday’s passing of retired Deputy Hank Floyd, who Hutson always referred to only half-jokingly as “the Sheriff of Mableton.” Floyd also was one of the original planners — and corn growers — for the Sheriff’s Annual Corn Boilin’, which since has grown into an annual summer tradition. Funeral arrangements are by Davis Streumpf in Austell. ...

Former assistant Cobb D.A. Erman Tanjuatco of Smyrna has been named the Top Prosecutor in the State by the District Attorneys Association of Georgia. Tanjuatco now is chief assistant D.A. in Clayton County.

“We are very proud of Erman and wish that he could have stayed in Cobb. He is one of the best prosecutors I have seen,” Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs told Around Town. …

And a big round of congratulations to retired Chattahoochee Tech President Dr. Harlon Crimm and wife JoAnn of Cobb, who this month celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

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THE MDJ’S page designers have got their mojo workin’ this month. Thursday’s MDJ front page, which was anchored by MDJ Chief Photographer Kelly Huff’s photos of Marietta High School after it was draped with toilet paper by rising seniors early the night before, was singled out by the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday as one of the 10 best front pages in the country that day, along with such well-known papers as The Orange County Register in California and The Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska.

Thursday marked the second time in the past week the MDJ has been recognized by the museum. It bestowed the same honor on last Friday’s front page, which like Thursday’s was designed by Managing Editor Billy Mitchell and Graphics Editor Kayla Allen.

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SICK BAY: Keep Marietta Beautiful Director Joan Ellars is recovering from a broken back suffered in a recent fall.

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SMYRNA Mayor Max Bacon remains as irrepressible — and politically incorrect — as ever. Last month he was hammered by critics for describing Cobb School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci as a “Polack” during the course of an interview with the MDJ. (Never mind that “Angelucci” is an Italian name and that her heritage is British, Irish and German.)

Last week he made light of the flap. When MDJ reporter Sarah Westwood arrived at Smyrna City Hall to cover that night’s council meeting, Bacon noted her arrival in the council chamber with the cheery greeting: “Hi! You’re not Polish, are you?”

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Ken Williams
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August 09, 2014
As the Base Civil Engineer I appreciate Ms Bllackwell's support of Dobbins ARB, but the runway is 10,000 feet long.
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