Emergency Response Training: Part 1

April 16, 2013

A Student-Based Team Approach to Prepare for Emergencies

Ryan Rudesill, Interim Coordinator of Intramurals and Sport Clubs
Mo McAlpine, Associate Director
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Editor’s Note: This article is Part 1 of a two part series. Part one focuses on ‘Developing an Emergency Response Team’ while the next issue of the Newsletter will cover ‘Red Shirt Reviews’.

Imagine you are working the front desk at a recreation facility and a student rushes to the counter in a panic, informing you that a participant in a group exercise class has become unresponsive. What do you do? How do your co-workers respond? The broader question: how prepared are you and your staff to deal with this or a similar life-threatening situation?

At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L), this exact scenario happened in the Recreational Eagle Center (REC) when Clare (who has granted permission to use her name) became unresponsive toward the end of an evening kickboxing class. Due to the efficient and courageous actions of student staff members and participants in the class, Clare’s life was saved. The teamwork of these college students with UW-L University Police, EMS, and the medical team at Mayo Clinic Health System was critical to her survival of a sudden cardiac arrest. Most vital was Clare’s relentless fight for her life while surrounded by supportive family and friends. Approximately one month later, she was back on campus attending classes.
The UW-L Recreational (Rec) Sports Department is appreciative of all those who were integral in successfully executing the emergency action plan (EAP) and who assisted with several campus wide debriefing sessions following the sudden cardiac arrest. Upon a thorough evaluation of the incident and the EAP, the department made the following modifications:

  • revised wording on the EAP to more accurately reflect specific information asked when calling 911 (dispatch answered the call by stating “911, what address are you calling from?”)
  • improved bystander awareness by adding a step in the EAP to gather names of bystanders near any life-threatening situation so they can be invited to follow up debriefing session
  • purchased staff cell phones, subsequently requiring staff members to call 911 while at the scene (911 call was transferred to a nurse advisor to assist with care and to gather updates; original 911 call for Clare was made on land line away from the scene, forcing updates via two-way radios)
  • placed CPR masks in each room of the building and purchased additional pocket masks for staff to carry while on duty
  • purchased American Red Cross CPR & AED reference cards for front desk staff members to review while at work
  • required each staff member to successfully complete CPR & AED skills test (now incorporated into fall and spring training sessions)
  • initiated formal organization of student-based emergency response team (ERT)

The purpose of this article is to expand on the student-based ERT, outlining five steps to create something similar in your organization. The UW-L Rec Sports Department has experienced great success with the ongoing implementation of the team. In addition to improving the skills and comfort level of staff members when dealing with emergencies, ERT is a beneficial development opportunity for students serving on the team who gain valuable leadership and life skills. For information regarding the UW-L Rec Sports ERT and other emergency materials, consult the ERT website (http://www.uwlax.edu/recsports/ert.htm )

Steps to develop an Emergency Response Team (ERT):

1. Create your team: whether paid or voluntary, include students and professional staff; strive for representation across relevant position areas; structure may include advisor and student coordinator to lead the team; consider involvement from units such as risk management/safety, campus police, counseling, residence life and student life office; and create mission statement and learning outcomes to direct purpose of team. The UW-L Rec Sports ERT mission statement is: “The ERT will ensure the readiness of the Rec Sports Department for any potential emergency, review emergency action plans, and strive for efficiency in upholding accident, incident and injury protocols”.

2. Evaluate current procedures: ERT should ensure that all emergency procedures are up to date and easily accessible to staff members; team should frequently evaluate all aspects of emergency response policies and protocols which may include but are not limited to:

  • emergency action plans (medical, weather-related, fire, suspicious person/package, weapons)
  • documentation (forms, checklists, injury and incident reports)
  • emergency equipment, supplies and locations (AED’s, first aid supplies, area of rescue assistance, shelters)
  • communication equipment (cell/satellite phones, two-way radios, intercom systems)
  • common practices (such as who initiates EAP, what door does EMS arrive at, who completes documentation, where are areas of shelter, who conducts debriefing sessions, etc.)
  • staff certifications (employment requirements, certifying agencies). UW-L requires a minimum of lay responder CPR, AED and first aid
  • staff training procedures (who conducts training, how frequent are training sessions/meetings, what is the content)
  • collaboration (coordination with campus police, EMS, risk management/safety, counseling, other related campus and community units)


3. Prepare emergency action plans: ERT can be responsible for the ongoing review of emergency action plans; consider plans for medical emergencies, threatening weather, fire and fire prevention, shelter in place, weapons, bombs, theft, suspicious packages/items, and radiation, chemical or biological threats; should be dynamic documents clearly posted in a variety of locations and formats such as bullets, flow charts, and diagrams; must be consistent across all program areas. ERT members must be extremely familiar with EAP’s prior to implementation of step 4.

4. Develop and implement “red shirt reviews”: most beneficial role of ERT is to perform red shirt reviews — hands-on, mock situations that simulate emergencies; purpose at UW-L is to create a non-intimidating environment with real life situations for staff members to practice and become comfortable implementing EAP’s (more detailed information appears in the next Newsletter).

5. Evaluate progress: formally and informally evaluate the ERT and emergency response training on a regular basis; evaluation methods include observation of red shirt reviews and real life emergencies, feedback during debriefing sessions, and electronic surveys.

As stated above, red shirt reviews aim to provide a non-intimidating, real life environment for staff to hone their skills related to emergency action plans. Ideally, each staff member (approximately 80 students) is reviewed once per semester. Currently, the reviews are based on life-threatening and non-life-threatening medical emergencies. The goal is to further expand the program to include weather-related scenarios and campus threats such as a bomb or active shooter(s). Student members who volunteer for ERT are facilitators of the red shirt reviews. These students have more extensive training on the emergency procedures of the Rec Sports Department to better facilitate reviews.

Part 2 of this series will focus in more detail on how to implement the Red Shirt Reviews.
The UW-L Recreational Sports Department is indebted to many students who have assisted with the development and presentations of ERT over the past three years. Thank you for your commitment!

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