Home active shooter Preparing for the Unthinkable: The Value of Citizen Responders at the Las Vegas Shooting
Preparing for the Unthinkable: The Value of Citizen Responders at the Las Vegas Shooting

Preparing for the Unthinkable: The Value of Citizen Responders at the Las Vegas Shooting

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By Anthony S. Mangeri, MPA, EMT, CEM, American Military University

It is painful to think that violent attacks such as the Las Vegas shooting and Boston Marathon bombing can happen anytime and anywhere. However, they can and they do. Mass-casualty incidents can be the result of a shooting, a bombing, or even a bus crash on a local highway. It is essential that we acknowledge the ability of citizen responders to aid in times of such crisis.

Emergency management planning initiatives focus on restoring calm in times of chaos. These plans must include incident leadership, the responsibilities of first responders, the community’s capabilities, and mutual aid systems to address potential threats and consequences. Building preparedness also includes training of the citizen responder.

[Related: Departments Must Train Citizens to be First Responders During Active Shootings]

Engaging Citizen Responders

As stories continue to emerge, it is clear that concertgoers at the Las Vegas shooting were responsible for saving many lives. Some were off-duty first responders, as well as prior and current military personnel. However, many were also regular citizens from a range of private sector professions who were ready and willing to assist those around them.

Unfortunately, this was just one of many mass-casualty incidents that have occurred in the past year, but the common denominator at each of these incidents was that citizens were on the scene before local emergency responders. These citizens were able to provide basic life support and assistance to those in need. This allowed EMS responders to focus on stabilizing the incident and on those with critical needs.

Some of the most successful community emergency management programs involve the efforts of all community stakeholders. The role of emergency management and homeland security professionals is not only to establish strategies to respond to emergencies; the ability to collaborate with public and private partners within the community is also vital. It is now time to focus on citizen responders to assure community resiliency in large-scale incidents.

Future planning must include training initiatives such as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and Medical Reserve Corps. CERT training is now available in many communities. Training includes modules in disaster preparedness, basic medical operations in a crisis, fire suppression basics, light search-and-rescue techniques and psychological first aid. [To find a CERT team near you, follow this link].

In the emergency management industry, a significant amount of resources is dedicated to planning and training emergency responders to effectively manage incidents, and the exceptional response in Las Vegas exemplifies the joint impact that an integrated approach can have. The first responders were focused and effective at managing both the threat and the consequence. In addition, citizen responders who were in the audience were a major part of the community response that saved lives.

[Related: Helping First Responders Recover After Las Vegas Shooting]

Being Prepared Anywhere, Anytime

There will be many assessments and reviews of the lessons learned at Las Vegas, not least that today’s special events require planning for the unthinkable. All indicators show that contingency plans worked to address the needs of those harmed in the incident. The preparedness of emergency management and public safety was evident. In addition, the Southern Nevada Health District designates significant resources to day-to-day pre-hospital needs, including for in the event of a mass-casualty incident.

Nevada is one of the few states that mandates medical plans and resources at special events, meaning that medical professionals were stationed on site and in the area of the festival. The Clark County EMS Regulations Section 1150 mandates medical coverage for special events based on the expected number of attendees, community capabilities, and several other factors. These regulations and other information for promoters can be found here.

Across the country, more jurisdictions need to mandate permits for special events that include medical and emergency preparedness planning. The expectation for promoters to provide adequate health and safety resources at special events across the country should be clearly defined. This should include requiring promoters to work with local officials to ensure that there are contingency plans in place. Potential needs should be based on a comprehensive risk analysis of the event, the intended audience, the venue and the host community.

[Related: 20 Questions Emergency Managers Should Ask Before Disaster Strikes]

In addition, emergency managers must work together with homeland security planners to evaluate potential threats and build systems to address potential consequences. They must also work with local, county, regional and private sector partners to develop community response strategies, including initiatives to train citizen responders. This integrated planning and training is what makes the difference.

Mass-casualty attacks in Las Vegas, Boston, Orlando and other communities remind us that these incidents can occur anywhere at any time. Emergency management programs need to work with citizen groups and communities to train community members on the basics of how to respond to a crisis, safely provide assistance and save lives.

citizen respondersAbout the Author: Anthony Mangeri has more than 30 years of experience in crisis management and emergency operations. He served his community as a volunteer firefighter and an EMT for close to 30 years, ultimately earning the rank of assistant chief/safety officer and serving as the fire department’s health and safety officer for many years. Currently, Mangeri serves as the director of Fire and Emergency Services Initiatives at American Military University and is faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. He serves on several professional committees, including the ASIS Fire and Life Safety Council, the Domestic Preparedness Journal Editorial Advisory Board, and is vice-president of the International Association of Emergency Managers Region 2.

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