Every year, millions of people safely attend sporting and musical entertainment events in stadiums and outdoor venues across the country. These events are often staffed with uniformed police, undercover officers and security personnel – and have private and public ambulances present to transport injured individuals to local hospitals. They are also equipped with first aid stations staffed with nurses and doctors from local hospitals. This is all done to ensure that if something goes wrong, the right people are there to respond. Typically, these emergency management resources are available in sufficient strength to support the security and medical needs of as many as tens of thousands of people enjoying an event. However, a mass casualty incident can stretch these resources to their limits – as evidenced during the 2017 Las Vegas mass attack at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Even with staff and resources on site, entertainment venues are not adequately equipped to tend to hundreds or thousands of victims simultaneously.

Mass Casualty Incident Planning is a Critical Component of Major Event Security

It’s imperative that stadium and venue operators plan, conduct and evaluate mass casualty incident exercises with local first responders, emergency medical transportation companies and hospitals. The 2018 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Las Vegas mass attack after-action report (AAR) is an excellent blueprint for planning and testing a mass casualty incident response plan.

Stadium and venue operators and local first responder agencies need to test, assess and practice their mass casualty incident response plans every year. Key observations contained in FEMA’s AAR should be integrated into every stadium and venue emergency response plan. Similarly, any city or town that hosts a mass gathering event (i.e., more than 5,000 people in a confined area or space), should develop and test its mass casualty incident response plans at least once annually.

Leveraging FEMA’s Las Vegas After-Action Report to Learn from the Past

To summarize FEMA’s AAR’s 72 observations, private owners, public agencies and local hospitals should plan for the following high-probability events.

  • Cell tower communications may fail.
  • The use of multiple first responder radio channels may lead to confusion and delay notifications.
  • Medical resources may become overwhelmed within minutes.
  • Crowd management issues may initially overwhelm local first responders and medical staff on site.
  • A sufficient number of ambulances may not be available to transport victims.
  • Triage locations may be disorganized and understaffed and may spontaneously form in unplanned locations.
  • Confirming the exact location of the attacker may take longer than anticipated.
  • Additional on-duty police and fire personnel may arrive on scene without notice.
  • Some off-duty officers from other external jurisdictions may challenge the authority of local first responders and medical personnel.
  • Civilians may tie-up 911 call centers with unintentional false calls (i.e., ‘distraction calls’) reporting incorrect information regarding the number of shooters, location of the shooters and time of shooting.
  • Civilians may sacrifice their own lives to assist victims

Actions to Take During Mass Casualty Multi-Jurisdictional Exercises

If they do not already, venue operators and local first responder agencies should address each of the items above in multi-jurisdictional exercises. These exercises should have the following goals.

  • Identify which radio channels will be used to respond to an event at a mass gathering event.
  • Locate all the radio and cell phone dead zones within a stadium or venue.
  • Determine how local ambulances will be able to move anywhere from 100 to more than 1,000 victims.
  • Identify all triage locations and require anyone operating such a triage site to report its status to the on-site Incident Commander.
  • Define the reporting structure for additional local police and fire personnel who arrive unannounced on site.
  • Confirm how off-duty officers from external police, fire or other agencies will or will not be integrated into the response plan.
  • Formalize a plan to manage and confirm false calls with inaccurate information.
  • Determine how civilians can assist with care and transport of victims during response phase.

Following each tragedy, we learn more about how to prepare for and respond to such a devastating event. We have to look at these terrible events, gain insights into what worked and what didn’t and then train for those scenarios, again and again. If we do that responsibly, we can help save lives and prevent harm.

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