Emergency Plans: The Value of Being Prepared
Professional, college, and high school sports organizations dictate policies and practice procedures in case of emergency.
For example, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured a few years ago and had to be carted off the field on a back board, the emergency personnel involved each had a specific job to perform in his extrication. The entire incident, except for the actual injury, was pre-planned from who would drive the cart, to who would lift the player onto the cot, to which hospital he would be transported to.
Most high school and college sporting events require emergency medical personnel to be on scene in case of emergency. This is just one small part of Emergency Action Planning, and the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) and National Center for Sports Safety (NCSS) are attempting to get youth sports organizations more involved.
Keith Gorse, Clinical Coordinator for Duquesne University’s Department of Athletic Training, and his students have been working with youth sports organizations and municipalities for the past six years to develop Emergency Action Plans.
“Plans are important because we are talking about field safety, equipment safety, player and crowd safety,” Gorse said. “Many people think, ‘we have it in our heads that we know what to do in case of emergency,’ but you need to have it in writing.”
According to both the athletic trainers and center for sports safety, being prepared is the key to responding to unexpected emergencies.
There are many different parts to an Emergency Action Plan. Gorse’s students begin by surveying organization coaches and directors to identify specific needs. Each plan is sport specific and venue specific.
One of the components of the plan is the layout of the facility. This includes items such as where emergency personnel will enter and exit the field, Gorse said. All coaches should know where the phone is located so that first responders can be called in the event that they are not at the facility.
Gorse said that coaches and other key personnel should also have valid CPR/AED certification. He spends many weekends teaching the course. However, he said some people are hesitant to get so involved because it is more work, and they are only volunteers.
“You are not just talking about field safety here,” Gorse said. “Many of these people are parents. You as a dad can be saving a life.”
Plans also address equipment safety, including having fully-stocked first aid kits at every bench, player emergency cards for coaches, and easily accessible medical release forms from the players. Most facilities now have an AED, and all coaches should know where it is located as well as the telephone, flashlights and fire extinguishers.
“These are the types of things that need to be addressed,” Gorse said. “It (EAP) is the first thing an organization should do, not only for the kids but also the parents because if something does happen and someone gets hurt, it could mean the difference between life and death.”
Organizations should evaluate all of the support personnel and know the special capabilities of each coach, trainer, manager and other people present at both practices and games. Many sports groups will publish a list with names of the people certified in first aid and CPR for quick reference.
It is also important to have all the phone numbers posted for local EMS personnel, fire, police, poison control centers, hospitals and utility companies connected to the facility.
Although it is just one more duty as volunteers, youth sports organizations should also assign specific duties to each person, Gorse said. In event of an emergency, people should be assigned to care for the sick individual, control the crowd, supervise the athletes, meet EMS personnel, and someone should be assigned to transport the injured athlete if necessary.
There should also be a clear cut chain of command. It should be a clear and concise policy of how and when to call 911, who should call the parents of an injured athlete, and in extreme cases, who should be responsible for dealing with the media.
Injury reports should be available to all coaches so that they may be completed in a timely fashion before details become too sketchy. Each organization should also have a specific person or team of people responsible for keeping the first aid kits stocked.
Just like the professionals, youth teams should have these procedures in place before an emergency. It is vital to have, in writing, a strategy for dealing with any emergency from an allergy attack to a heart attack.
“It actually becomes a liability issue,” Gorse said. “Everyone is suing these days, especially if the situation could have been avoided. Every athletic organization from youth to pro should have an Emergency Action Plan. Every coach should be certified in CPR/AED. Every bench should have a first aid kit, no if, ands, or buts.”
Gorse said the added bonus to having a formal Emergency Action Plan is that it is a contract, delivered and reviewed by the organization, the municipality and all the emergency responders.
“It is good to have another set of eyes to look at your operations,” Shaler Township Manager Tim Rogers said. “They can make recommendations about all your safety issues.”
For Shaler, some of the recommendations meant upgrades to area facilities. Items included coverings on top of all the fences, opening up communications between the township, police, and civic youth organizations, and regular inspections for all the playgrounds.
Rogers added that all youth organizations must carry insurance and first aid kits.
“You can’t cover everything from the cost aspect of it all, but if you bring it to the attention of the youth organizations, you know they have a head start on it,” Rogers said. “With 12 active parks, you can’t have the EMS at every event. EMS is required at high-risk events, and all of the police and EMS units carry AEDs.”
Lower Burrell No. 1 Fire Chief Ted Hereda agreed that involving the emergency responders at this level only benefits everyone in the community. With more open communication, plans can be made for any sort of emergency.
“Not everyone has access to have an ambulance on duty at every event,” Hereda said. “It’s good to get the emergency responders involved to have a plan if something happens.”
Hereda said in most cases an ambulance can be on scene in a matter of minutes, but he added that if something else happens or if it is a rural area, it could take longer so people need to be prepared with some sort of contingency plan.
In the past six years, Gorse and his students have put together emergency plans for Shaler, Morningside, Fox Chapel, Aspinwall, North Hills and Penn Hills. There is no charge to organizations because it is a service/learning project for students. However, the schedule is very tight.
If an organization wants to put together its own plan, Gorse recommends contacting the local high school’s athletic trainer and incorporating the same type of plan that the high school has in place.
Developing an Emergency Action Plan shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks, Gorse said. It is just a few minutes out of a lifetime to make youth sports safe.