AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Why We Need More Training to Handle Mass Casualty Incidents

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

Emergencies happen every day throughout our country. In some places, serious emergencies happen on an hourly basis, while critical emergencies happen less frequently in other places. For the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who manage medical and trauma emergencies, it is important to attend regular training sessions, so they’re always prepared to handle whatever they encounter.

Most states within the United States require continuing education training to help emergency medical services (EMS) providers remain current on the treatment of various types of illnesses and injuries. This training is also a recertification requirement.

However, readiness for some incidents may be difficult when larger disasters happen less often. Consequently, it is particularly important for EMS agencies to train regularly and frequently for mass casualty incidents. EMTs and paramedics who respond to these mass casualty incidents will need a frame of reference for managing these events.

Related link: Why Every Public Safety Agency Should Use Body Cameras

The Definition of Mass Casualty Incidents

Mass casualty incidents are defined by available EMS resources being compromised. In other words, the supply of available equipment and personnel is not enough to properly manage the event.

For instance, imagine that there is a car crash where there are five patients, and an ambulance crew is only equipped to handle two patients. Another mass casualty incident occurred recently in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where a suspect drove a SUV into a crowd during a holiday parade. The driver killed six people and injured 50 others.

Managing Mass Casualty Incidents

Managing mass casualty incidents require much more than treating people’s illness or injuries and transporting them to healthcare facilities. They also require very different skill sets, including a keen understanding of the Incident Command System, various applications of triage and managing high-stress incidents.

Mass casualty incidents are very stressful because there is a sudden influx of patients who all need immediate care. Additionally, all of the patients can’t be treated at the same time, which adds to the stress for first responders.

Serving at these incidents is often so intense that after such major events, psychology professionals strongly suggest that first responders attend a critical incident stress debriefing session afterward to help the EMS team understand what took place from a mental health standpoint. In addition, it is important for a department to conduct an after-action report to understand what went well and didn’t go well.

Ideally, EMS personnel should have a solid plan for how they will handle such incidents in their minds. Mass casualty incidents such as Waukesha reminds us that such events will happen at times, and first responders must be trained for how to manage such incidents well.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. She is also chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds multiple graduate degrees.

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