Preparing Your Staff for the Real Deal

January 15, 2014

The Importance of Red Shirt Drills

Gabby Marquez
Aquatics Program Director
Campus Recreation and Intramurals
Georgia Southern University

Henry Ford once said, “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success” and this is true for emergency readiness. Preparing your staff for an emergency can be like riding a bike; they may fall several times, but with practice and patience they will master the skills and they will never fall again. In this article, we will dissect the components of an audit system called ‘Red Shirt Drills’. Red Shirt Drills are scenarios that are put in place to test staff performance during an emergency situation. The main goal of this audit system is to create an environment where the staff can feel ready to perform under stressful situations and the element of surprise is diminished. Red Shirt Drills can be applied to any program area within your recreational facility; aquatics, intramural sports, fitness, facilities and beyond.

Phase 1: Assessing Your Staff’s Prior Knowledge
The main point for this phase is to determine what your staff already know or don’t know about the skills you want to implement. Begin by discussing your goals with the staff. Let them know that during this phase you want them act to the best of their abilities. Written and practical pre-tests can be your greatest tool in this phase. For example, a key component to any emergency response is the responder’s knowledge of CPR/AED and First Aid. To assess their knowledge, start with a written exam from your CPR/AED and First Aid provider. Then, have the staff demonstrate the skills they were asked about in the exam. Document your findings; where do they excel? Where are they weak?Ask your staff the following questions. Do they know:
– Locations of equipment, such as first aid kits and AED?
– How to communicate appropriately over the radio (if your facility uses radios)?
– How do document accidents with the appropriate paper work?
– Where the emergency exits are located?
– Protocols specific to your facility, such as tornado and fire procedures?

These questions are general, therefore you have to ask specific questions that apply to your facility.

Use this phase to gather as much data as possible. Look at your Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and break it down into small components to understand what your staff know and don’t know. Note that in order to move on to the next phase, you must have a formal written EAP in place so that you and your staff can refer back to it.

Phase 2: Outline the Red Shirt Drills
Using the data collected in Phase 1, ask yourself the following questions:
– What skills were lacking in Phase 1?
– Are there aspects of your EAP that need to be revised?
– What scenarios will benefit the program or facility?

Once you have an answer to these questions, you can come up with a list of scenarios you want the staff to perform. Here are a few examples:
– In-water rescues
– First aid emergencies
– Breathing emergencies
– Tornado drills
– Lightening drills
– Fire drills
– Participants with behavioral issues
– Other scenarios that are specific to your facility or program.

Once you have a list of scenarios appropriate to your program or facility, begin recruiting ‘victims’ for each scenario. It is strongly recommended to you use victims the staff do not know. This helps with comfort levels and seriousness of the drill. You can use staff from other program areas or members of the facility. Preparation of the victims is also an important factor of the Red Shirt Drill success. Give the victim all of the information you want them to display during each scenario such as, symptoms, level of conciseness, and any other visual cues that pertain to the specific scenario.

Phase 3: Setting the Guidelines and Expectations
In order for your staff to be successful during each scenario, you must set guidelines and expectations for your Red Shirt Drills. Begin by creating a rubric that will be utilized to grade all of the Red Shirt Drills. It is strongly recommended that you use the same rubric for all scenarios so that your staff understands exactly what to expect for each scenario and you can compare each scenario to another. However, you may feel that your facility or program would benefit from different rubrics. For example, in an aquatics facility you may have a rubric for in water emergencies and a different rubric for on land emergencies. Content of the rubric will depend on your goal. Some parameters to consider: time recognition, effectiveness of the skills, communication, paper work and customer service.

To set the expectations for your Red Shirt Drills, you must demonstrate how you want the skills to be performed. Certifications through various providers on CPR/AED and First Aid, have exact expectations of how each skill should be performed, but grade each scenario based on the objective. Remember that the goal of Red Shirt Drills is to practice each scenario so that the element of surprise is diminished; therefore you should teach to the standard, but test to the objective.

Another guideline that will help you with the success of this program is victim recognition and communication guidelines. To begin this audit program, have all victims wear a distinctive red color item that is specified in your guidelines. For example, show your staff the exact red shirt, baseball cap, or red swimsuit that will be used during each Red Shirt Drill. Ensure that your staff understands that only those items will be used – otherwise they may think that anyone who wears any red baseball cap is a Red Shirt Drill victim and that may cause anxiety. As your program progresses and your staff become comfortable with emergency readiness, you can eliminate the red color item and set the expectation that anyone can be a victim just like in real life.

You should set expectations for the program as well. Where do you expect the program to be in three months? What about one year? Keep all rubrics so that you can compare and contrast improvements or deficiencies.

Phase 4: Implementation of the Red Shirt Drills
In this phase you begin to set the plan in motion. When implementing your Red Shirt Drills, it is important to think about other programs that may be occurring in the facility. While the goal of Red Shirt Drills is to give staff the most real scenario, you don’t want to impede programs or prevent patrons from recreation. You may also think about the rescuers that will be involved. Does your scenario require staff from another program area? For example, if a referee is outside on a field and a Red Shirt Drill occurs, does he/she have to call someone from the facility to aid with the scenario? If so, you need to ensure that there is proper communication between each program supervisor. The best way to do this is to plan the scenarios at least a month in advance. Meet with each program supervisor and explain your plan of action. Set dates, times and specific scenarios so that everyone is informed of what the Red Shirt Drill intentions are and unwanted actions do not occur (like calling EMS!).

Making the scenarios real is critical for each drill. Be creative during each scenario so that your staff becomes familiar with the issues they will likely find during each emergency procedure. For example, if your scenario involves blood ensure that a red substance is used (recipe for fake blood: corn syrup and red food dye.) Implementing as many real features will diminish the element of surprise and staff will become more comfortable as time progresses.

Phase 5: Evaluation of the Red Shirt Drill Program
After you have implemented the Red Shirt Drill program for four months, or a semester, you need to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Review the expectations set in phase 3 and have an open conversation with your staff. Ask them how they feel about the implementation of the program and their readiness for an emergency. Are they more prepared? Do they feel more or less anxious about emergencies? These questions can help you improve or change the program.

There should also be an evaluation of the rubric during this phase. The rubric helps you understand how your staff is performing. For example, at Georgia Southern University where this program was started, the initial rubric was set to grade from 1 to 3 for each category. After a semester, it was seen that more options were needed. The rubric was changed to grade from 1 to 5 and it has improved the understanding of how the lifeguards performed.

An emergency should never be a surprise to your staff. They should be equipped with as much knowledge as possible. Teaching a CPR/AED or First Aid class at the beginning of the semester and counting on the staff to recall that information months down the road should not be considered preparation for emergencies. Red Shirt Drills engage the staff in a consistent way and it allows them to make the mistakes without endangering someone’s life. Give your staff the empowerment of emergency readiness today!

For more information on our Online Courses,
contact us now!