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New Report Finds Urgent Need for Emergency Medical and Emergency Response Training to Deal with Weapons of Mass Destruction Attack

New Report Finds Urgent Need for Emergency Medical and Emergency Response Training to Deal with Weapons of Mass Destruction Attack
09-09-2002

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Nearly a year after the attacks of last September 11th, U.S. emergency response personnel still lack training to deal with a weapons of mass destruction attack, according to a study released today by the Federation of American Scientists, and only a coordinated interagency approach making skillful use of new information technology can ensure that effective, up-to-date training is available to the millions of personnel who need it in a timely way.

"The nation's firefighters, nurses, physicians and other first responders indicate that they are not prepared for a weapons of mass destruction attack," said Henry Kelly, FAS President and co-author of the study. "Absent better coordination and approaches to delivery of training for these personnel, much of the current investment in dealing with an attack will be wasted and decades could pass before the need is met."

"We must recognize that the training demands are dramatically larger and more complex than anything the nation has faced before," Kelly added. "We need an approach commensurate with the problem."

The study finds that federal planners are not taking advantage of new information technologies, many of them developed and deployed by the Department of Defense (DOD), to train the more than five million emergency responders in the U.S. This is partly because federal expertise and funding is divided between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and DOD.

"The Governmental Affairs Committee bill to establish a new Department of Homeland Security recognizes the need to improve first-responder training," Senator Joseph Lieberman said. "These men and women are our first line of defense and we must be certain they are equipped to respond to any weapon of mass destruction. The new Directorate for Emergency Response within the new department would work to train these brave men and women, and technology would play an important role in that training. Computer simulations can help them imagine the unimaginable and prepare for any possible attack."

Senator Judd Gregg said, "Improving training for our emergency and medical responders to WMD attacks is a crucial part of our response to new terrorist threats."

Key findings of the study include:

  • Millions of civilian and military medical personnel need to be trained quickly to respond to events involving WMD, and have continuous access to refresher courses (including "just in time" training during an emergency).
  • Physicians, nurses, emergency medical workers, police and fire officials feel unprepared for a WMD emergency - particularly at the level of cities and counties.
  • Even with adequate funding, current programs to provide this training are not adequate to the task.
  • New information and training technologies can build a training system that will reach this audience quickly with timely information, allow training tailored to unique local situations, and provide simulated experiences that transfer efficiently into high levels of performance in an actual emergency.
  • A coordinated interagency plan is essential to build and operate the kinds of new training systems that have become essential. This should: (a) provide timely updates, quality control, and peer review of the content, (b) encourage uniform standards in training skills for all relevant occupations, (c) provide for the design, installation, and upgrade of communication and other infrastructure needed, and (d) plan to deliver training quickly using existing technology and to continuously upgrade capabilities to use advanced simulations and other tools as new technologies are developed.
  • This plan should ensure that: (a) each federal agency is assigned missions consistent with its core competencies, (b) state and local governments are well integrated into the process, and (c) draws as appropriate on existing professional certification organizations, universities, and private businesses.

"We will expect our first responders and emergency medical personnel to perform heroically in the event of a terrorist attack that may involve conditions where none of them have personal experience" said Dr. William Wilkerson, M. D., Director of Medical Student Education, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School "Providing the needed training is an urgent national priority and we simply can not do the job without skillful use of advanced instructional technology."

Copies of the full report are available here.

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