SMHS experts travel the country to teach civilians and first responders how to act quickly in the moments after a tragedy.
By Kristen Mitchell
In the five years since School of Medicine and Health Sciences experts were awarded a $1.3 million grant to train citizens and first responders to administer medical care in the immediate aftermath of a mass casualty event, more than 5,000 individuals across the country have participated in training courses.
In 2014, SMHS was awarded a continuing training grant by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop courses that would better prepare citizens and first responders to provide care after high-threat scenarios. There can be delays in response during mass casualty events because of operational challenges associated with ongoing police activity. Any delay could mean that injured individuals do not receive care within critical time periods to improve their outcomes.
The FEMA-sponsored course is led by Geoffrey Shapiro, director of EMS and operational medicine training. The program aims to build individual and community resilience and give people at all skill levels the appropriate tools necessary to protect themselves and others in emergencies. Things like learning how to check and pack wounds, apply a tourniquet and manage a person’s airway could help save lives.
“These incidents in particular require everybody to be resilient. The professionals are coming, but we need that stopgap measure,” Mr. Shapiro said. “Be the help before the help arrives.”
Mr. Shapiro and his team developed a series of seven courses, including a free online introductory course, aimed at the specific needs of different populations. The other six classes are taught in person to cater to the needs of civilians, medical personnel and EMS, fire and law enforcement first responders.
GW experts based the training courses on the tenets of Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC), which is a set of evidence-based, best practice medical treatment guidelines. Various GW experts and clinicians played a major role in developing TECC in 2011, which quickly became the accepted standard for care during atypical events. These guidelines are used by, members of the public, first responders and medical staff who would first receive individuals in hospital emergency rooms.
As mass shootings and other high casualty events make headlines, Joseph Bocchino, professor of clinical leadership and management and former senior associate dean for Health Sciences, said while participants hope they never have to use the skills they learn in the class, they could someday be invaluable.
“We can wish we didn’t live in the world we live in today, but these shooting events are not going to go way, that’s the state of our world that we live in,” Dr. Bocchino said. “Part of our thinking is, the American public has to be prepared for those kinds of things.”
There were more than 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2018. Many of these incidents have sparked debates about gun control and access to deadly weapons, but Dr. Bocchino said there needs be to more discussion about what individuals should do if they find themselves in a threatening situation.
“Both conversations are important,” he said. “But one is not happening at all, and it’s the easier conversation.”
Dr. Bocchino and Mr. Shapiro hope to expand training in the Washington, D.C., area to include more college students.
Over the next few months the GW team will hold classes in Texas, New Jersey, Hawaii, West Virginia and other states. An important aspect of the grant is that the training be provided to both urban and rural communities. Dr. Bocchino and Mr. Shapiro work closely with a pool of subject-area experts who conduct individual training sessions catered for each client.
Mr. Shapiro said GW experts are well-positioned to continue similar trainings with agencies who request them when the FEMA funding expires this year.
“Faculty throughout GW have been instrumental in improving high-threat response worldwide for many years now,” he said. “This grant is just one way we’re doing that.”