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Issues in training emergency responders: is preparation for terrorism different from training for "ordinary" disasters?

Scharf T; Kowalski-Trakofler KM; Colligan M; Cole H; Pastel R; Roberts R; Vaught C; Elisburg D; Wiehagen WJ; Gershon R; Reissman D
NOIRS 2003-Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2003, October 28-30, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, PA: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2003 Oct; :47
Terrorist incidents using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) feel overwhelming--both to the victims and to the professionals who provide emergency and other services in response to such incidents. If the WMD agent is unknown or undetectable (i.e., by the senses, as in radiation), there can be extreme fear and dread. With such overwhelming emotional responses likely, how can we expect responders to be able to reliably make the time-critical decisions necessary to complete a rescue or other tasks and minimize personal and crew exposure to the hazards? More specifically, how can we prepare responders to maintain emotional balance and good decision-making in this type of environment? The broader question is: should terrorist incidents be viewed as categorically distinct and separate from other workplace emergencies and hazards, or should they be treated as occupying the extreme end of a series of dimensions along which natural disasters, routine emergencies, and other hazardous environments may vary? Our hypothesis is that we can characterize the differences between these events along several dimensions, including (1) the specific type(s) and severity of the hazard(s) present, including (a) unknown versus known degree and type of exposure(s), and (b) involuntary versus voluntary nature of the exposure(s); (2) the speed and complexity of responses that are demanded of workers; (3) the risks for injury, including uncommon (rare) versus common (everyday) risks associated with exposure(s); and (4) severity of the consequences of exposure(s), including the potential for traumatic incident stress that may result. The key test is to identify analogous, but more common and less extreme, "routine" or "ordinary" hazards that may help prepare workers for a WMD or terrorist event. Then, existing training for various types of emergencies, including chemical, biological, and radiation hazards, can be extended to help prepare for the magnitude of a mass casualty incident.
Terrorism; Training; Emergency responders; Decision making; Rescue workers; Stress; Hazards
NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236
Publication Date
Document Type
Abstract; Conference/Symposia Proceedings
Fiscal Year
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Research Tools and Approaches: Intervention Effectiveness Research
Source Name
NOIRS 2003-Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2003, October 28-30, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Page last reviewed: June 15, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division