Throwback Thursday: Always prepared

For the last seven decades, Baylor College of Medicine has cared for the health of the greater Houston community. In the shadow of the Cold War, precautions and planning were no exception.


This Throwback Thursday, we travel back to the late 1950s with photos from an exercise that simulated a nuclear explosion in the Houston area. The response effort is pictured in this 1957 Baylor University College of Medicine Aesculapian Yearbook photo, courtesy of the Baylor College of Medicine Archives.

The exercise had approximately 300 volunteers ranging from our students, local high school students and Boy Scouts. Our administrators and doctors, with the help of the Houston medical community orchestrated a response plan in case of an emergency.

In the April 7, 1956 Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Stanley Olson, dean of the College, detailed the medical plan and exercise. He notes the Harris County Medical Society grappled with creating the plan for 18 months, anticipating casualties totaling approximately 100,000.

Termed “Operation Mercy,” the plan was to mobilize personnel, medical supplies and supporting materials within an hour, assemble convoys and dispatch them throughout the Bayou City.

Volunteers played the role of patients, complete with index cards detailing their specific injuries from the nuclear blast.

Emergency responders around Houston pitched in for the exercise. Dr. Olson notes “the units were in actual operation for about four and one-half hours. The actual care of this many casualties would probably have required at least twice the time.”

“Within five hours after the unannounced alert, all units were functioning at the scene of the disaster,” Olson wrote in the article.

Today the College is still ready to help the community.

Dr. Kenneth Mattox, distinguished service professor and chief of staff and surgeon-in-chief at Ben Taub, was recently honored by the Association Medical Association with the Benjamin Rush Award for Citizenship and Community Service. The AMA said Mattox was recognized for his “model leadership in the medical response to natural disasters on the Gulf Coast.”

Each year the College also works with Houston’s emergency medical services personnel to help simulate and train in stressful situations.

Learn more about how Baylor is involved in the community.

-By Audrey M. Marks

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