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Experts who handled Giffords shooting, Joplin tornadoes share experience

READ MORE: Experts who handled Giffords shooting, Joplin tornadoes share experience

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Some jobs require lessons that can only be learned from first-hand experiences.

Here in Wilmington this weekend, doctors, nurses and other emergency workers are learning from counterparts who handled last year's shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and the killer tornadoes in Joplin, MO.

"Debris was just phenomenal," said Jeff Hamilton, the incident commander after the Joplin tornado last spring. "There were patients still standing out in the parking lots that the staff was trying to take care of and get to appropriate treatment areas. There was no electricity. It was still cold. There was intense lightning."

Hamilton is the emergency management director who oversees more than 30 hospitals, including the one completely obliterated by the EF-5 Joplin tornado. He saw the devastation first hand right after the storm hit.

Dr. Peter Rhee is the Director of Trauma at the University Medical Center in Tucson, AZ. That's where Giffords was taken after a mass shooting during a public appearance in January 2011.

"I don't think it mattered to us what the patients' occupations or status were during that day," Dr. Rhee said. "We were focused on taking care of people who were hurt."

Those traumas had an impact all the way here in Wilmington.

"We all took pause and reviewed our policies and reviewed how we did things," New Hanover Regional Medical Center Emergency and Trauma Director Christy Spivey said.

Southeastern North Carolina has not had to deal with such crushing blows as the Joplin tornadoes or Arizona shooting recently. But both Hamilton and Rhee say if emergencies like that were to happen here, we can rest assured that our trauma equipment is top notch.

"For a city of this size, in Wilmington, you guys have probably one of the best trauma centers you could have in the entire country," Dr. Rhee said.

While Hamilton agrees, he also knows from experience there is lag time after a devastating disaster.

"There is no way that someone will be able to get all of these phenomenal resources to you, and you have to be able to function on your own," Hamilton said.

The experts agree that preparedness and education are key, as well as taking weather and emergency warnings seriously.

Rhee said the medical community must also learn to be more cooperative with the media, something he learned when dealing with such a high-profile patient. He believes the medical community and the media must work together so both can do their jobs well in an emergency.

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