Experts identify common post-attack response problems

Published 11 April 2007

Multi-disciplinary panel of blast-related injury experts takes a close look at common triage, scene security, and communications difficulties; researchers hope to identify best practices

A multi-disciplinary panel of blast-related injury experts from eight countries that have recently experienced terrorist attacks — Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — has identified common issues that could be used by others to enhance preparedness. The study, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Association of Emergency Medical Service Physicians, found “a number of commonalities among these terrorist events, even though they occurred in different countries under vastly different circumstances,” said E. Brooke Lerner of the Medical College of Wisconsin. “The next steps are to identify best practices in response to a blast-incident and to develop a research agenda that will guide research priorities.”

The panel considered issues ranging from detection and incident command to scene security and triage. In each area similarities were found. For example, it was determined that while detecting an attack has occurred was easy, citizen reports to emergency 911 systems are often misleading in terms of the scope and location of the event — a problem that could lead to insufficient resources responding to the scene or to providers not taking the appropriate precautions against a secondary device. Participants also identified problems with scene security, even in cases where agencies had distributed secure identification cards. A Saudi hospital that received the bulk of patients from a bombed housing complex in Riyadh, for instance, ran into problems when members of the staff began showing up at the hospital without their identification badges — leaving security guards to make difficult decisions about who to let in.

Other problems discussed included difficulties recalling medical staff in a controlled manner, maintaining medical equipment throughout long-term emergencies, and communications hiccups related to coordinating medical evacuations across jurisductional lines.