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Pre-planning for complex communications situations

Editor's note: A few more details — but not all of the answers — are emerging from a Thursday incident in which emergency medical personnel were not allowed inside the Knoxville Zoo to treat a boy who had been injured by a camel.

Reading this article, I reminded of the importance of preplanning. It sounds like the first responders in this case were not aware of the zoo facility's procedures of restricting access to the park when an animal might be loose within.

It also seems that zoo officials had no idea that EMS had been notified and was sending a full response to an event inside the park. Having two such miscommunications occur simultaneously can certainly make a call go awry.

Fortunately, it sounds like this was more of a near-miss, with the child being managed appropriately and officials from both sides sitting down to discuss what happened, and what to do in the future.

There's probably a similar situation in your response area. It could be an industrial site, recreational area, or even a densely occupied building with unique challenges to overcome in an emergency.

Your access to an ill or injured patient within the facility might be hampered by simple problems, such as a lack of elevators, a missing key, or an unattended security gate. People within the facility may not be familiar — or even aware of — its emergency response plans, as was likely the case at the zoo.

In preparing for such a situation, you should consider:

  • Best points of access and exit from the location
  • Availability of elevators and stairwells
  • Specialized hazardous materials, and their location
  • Key personnel positions involved in the response; i.e., can EMS expect trained first responders inside the facility?
  • Key information needed by EMS from facility officials
  • Any special handling of security procedures
  • Any plans for follow-up in cases of major incidents

You can't plan for everything, but you can at least engage with the folks responsible for the internal response plan and tease out at least the major hurdles to overcome in cases where a rapid response is needed to help manage the problem.

In such meetings, work with the responsible parties to find solutions that will allow you to do your job well, while maintaining the ability of the facility to maintain operations according to their internal plan. These efforts, while at times tedious, will pay off for everyone when the crisis strikes.


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