Las Vegas shootings a stark reminder to prepare for the worst

Every emergency room is poised for extraordinary circumstances.

After a gunman opened fire on a Las Vegas concert crowd Sunday night, even
highly prepared medical practitioners—and hospital communicators—were put
to the test.

Nearly 60 people were killed, and more than 500 were wounded by gunfire or
injured in the resulting panic.

Las Vegas hospitals have received well-deserved praise for handling a wave
of patients needing urgent attention. Their communications teams have
earned similar plaudits for handling a barrage of questions from reporters
and deflecting a torrent of rumors and misinformation from an array of
sources, much of it fueled by social media.

Medical professionals always hope for the best but prepare for the worst,
and communicators can adopt that same approach. Here are some takeaways
from the response Sunday evening:

1. Planning is crucial.

Don’t get caught off guard. NPR

The Southern Nevada Health District, which includes Las Vegas and Clark
County, has a 65-page trauma system plan that lays out how emergency
responders and hospitals should communicate, work together, and divide
responsibilities in a mass casualty situation.

Dr. Gina Piazza, co-chair of the High Threat Task Force at the American
College of Emergency Physicians, helped respond to victims of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks in New York. The
CNBC website reported her impressions of the Las Vegas response:

Piazza said that since the 9/11 attacks, “hospital preparedness” for events
involving mass casualties “has only been increasing.”

She said that hospitals nationwide prepare for dealing with “any sort of
mass casualty incident,” which can include not only shootings, but also
hurricanes, chemical spills and leaks, and other events.

“And because no one hospital can necessarily handle the extreme number of
casualties as seen last night, we have to prepare as regions,” Piazza said.

She said groups of hospitals in geographic areas often run drills to
simulate mass casualties and the medical response to them.

[Free Download: Keep your cool in a crisis with these 13 tips.]

2. Medical communicators can educate the public.

In an
article on the website, Dr. Barb Bisset, executive director of emergency
services for WakeMed in North Carolina, told journalists, “The event in Las
Vegas shows the need for the average person to know first aid and how to
stop someone from bleeding, which could save a person’s life as they wait
for emergency medical help.”

Drawing on the past helps, too. The Boston Marathon bombing pointed to the
need for citizens to be aware of what they can do. The CBS news website
quoted Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New

“Using certain tourniquets, properly applied tourniquets, can be
life-saving. Certainly, individuals don’t carry these—they may use belts or
other improvised devices. But tourniquets are something that can stem blood
loss because blood loss is one of the key things and ultimately that is the
issue that kills people,” Glatter said.

3. The community will respond.

Concerned citizens joined efforts to save lives. From
USA Today:

Meanwhile, people who wanted to help by giving blood flooded donation
centers. There were four places to donate in Las Vegas Monday, but their
capacity was limited by the number of blood donation vehicles at each
station. At UMC, they could handle 300 donors, and were already booked full
by 11 a.m.

4. Coping mechanisms are essential.

Other health care websites offered advice for dealing with the tragic news.
Tips from the UCHealth website include:

  • Limit your media exposure. Being informed is good, but it’s all too easy
    to overdose on news.
  • Keep up basic self-care. Take a walk. Spend time with a child. Cook a
    nourishing meal. Read a novel. Listen to music. Call a friend. Take a bath.
    Mediate. Get a massage. Write in a journal. Or use aromatherapy and
    essential oils.
  • Do something kind for someone.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take a few minutes to try a grounding or breathing exercise to help you
    live in the “now,” which can help you feel more peaceful and clear, even
    when external circumstances are difficult.

You can view the entire list

Communicators, what disaster plan essentials would you recommend?

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