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Colorado Shooting and Emergency Preparedness

The events in Aurora, Colorado shocked the nation last week. The ordeal has led many to question if their communities would be prepared for such a situation. This concern pops up from time to time during times of crisis. As the days have passed since the theater shooting, it has been made clear that not only were the hospitals in Colorado prepared for such an event, but it turns out hospitals all over the country are prepared and ready, should such event take place in their community.

Reform in mass trauma situations was started in 1999, after the Columbine shooting affected much of the same area of Colorado. When the September 11th attacks happened in 2001, even more changes were made. Trauma trainings have become an integral part of the emergency care system, and all facets of law enforcement and health providers educate in much the same way. Across the country, hospitals, first responders, and law enforcement agencies have all been preparing for years now. In the event that something should happen in your community, your local care and protection agencies already have a plan in place. They are ready-to-go in order to ensure the greatest amount of lives saved possible.

You may have seen footage of a mass casualty drill on your local news, as they tend to be highly publicized. Students (or volunteers) are made-up to represent a number of bodily injuries from burns, to broken bones, to wounds, and gunshot victims. While the make-up is usually from a mass-casualty simulation kit (designed specifically for the purpose of these training events), what they represent is very real. It allows healthcare workers to practice emergency management skills, and allows the community to participate and see how a drill would work in real life.

This planning has also led to even more comprehensive care in the field and in medical supply production. Emergency medical services and law enforcement agencies actually triaged the patients at the theater shooting, having them already prepared to see the doctors upon arrival at the hospital location. Through prepackaged and organized kits, including those for burns, wounds, and emergency first aid, patients are able to be treated before ever seeing a doctor or nurse at a hospital.

Within hospitals, trainings are done frequently and the staff learns to work as a solid and flowing team in order to handle large amounts of severely wounded patients. When a mass casualty situation comes into a hospital, all on-duty practitioners, nurses, and specialists come together from other areas of the hospital to specifically focus on treating those individuals. The numbers of patients that made their way into local Colorado area hospitals this past week overflowed emergency rooms and doctors found that they had more patients that needed operations than they had rooms or people for. It was at that point physicians from other floors, nurses, and even administrators brought more hands to help, as well as a replenishment of supplies.

Dr. Chris Cowell, of the Denver Health Medical Center, treated patients from the Columbine shooting 13 years ago. After dealing with this trauma, Dr. Cowell went around the country, instructing others on how to handle these situations and helped establish a method for handling mass casualties and traumas. Even he was astonished that this could happen again in the general vicinity of Columbine. As he arrived at the theater to do what he could, Dr. Cowell's first expression was disbelief. However, upon further inspection, he realized that things were far less chaotic than his original experience with a mass casualty situation at Columbine. They were methodical and efficient. Monthly or bi-monthly trainings, teamwork, and fast action saved many patients’ lives that night.

The Aurora, Colorado incident is already being hailed as the worst shooting incident in this country's late history, and it could be worse with several victims still in critical care. But had it not been for previous instances and healthcare workers having years to train for this, the outcome could have been even worse. Preparedness is not a given, it is something that must be worked towards. It is very fortunate that hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and emergency first responders have been preparing for emergency situations like this, and are ready should an incident occur in your community. The Colorado incident also brings home the fact that everyone should always be prepared. If hospitals have to prepare for mass casualty situations, then most civilians should really have plans in place too. Talk with your loved ones, make a plan, and should an event ever happen on a large scale, you too can be ready to handle it.

  Sources: Dateline NBC USA Today - Los Angeles Times - WNYT, New Channel 13, Albany NY - The Wichita Eagle -
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