Evaluation of Interdisciplinary Terrorism Preparedness Programs: A Pilot Focus Group Study

Article excerpt

Many terrorism preparedness trainings occur throughout the United States, yet few qualitatively examine trainees' needs and interests, reactions to training, or suggestions for training improvement. Eleven posttraining focus groups were conducted with 31 training participants at six sites. Participants were stratified by health profession discipline, and discipline-specific moderators conducted each session to better understand and probe for feedback. One additional moderator attended all sessions to increase consistency in methods across sessions. Focus group participants assessed changes in their perceptions, knowledge, and beliefs about terrorism preparedness. Participants reported perceiving terrorism as a potential threat but less likely than natural disasters. All-hazards crossover training for responding to terrorism and natural disasters was requested. The training was viewed positively, including the enrollment process, training content, and reference materials. Participants reported increased confidence in abilities to recognize a terrorist event. Participants stated they would like the training repeated annually with more first responders in attendance. Participants from rural areas had unique training needs based on limited resources and multiple roles of staff. While most participants wanted a longer, multispecialty conference with in-depth, discipline-specific breakout sessions, physicians requested shorter, separate training. Multispecialty training methods were successful and appreciated. This pilot study may serve as a template for qualitative evaluation of terrorism preparedness conferences for health professionals. J Allied Health 2006; 35:189-197.

THE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, brought international attention to America's relative vulnerability to such events. Some question the future state of the public health infrastructure due to renewed attention to and concern about a terrorist attack.1 Threats of terrorist attacks on the United States in the past have been destructive to the public health infrastructure.2 During the Cold War era, the threat of a terrorist attack generated public anxiety while limiting the scope and focus of public health activities due to reduced attention and funding allocated to surveillance and other national preparedness activities. However, the September 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent anthrax outbreaks, while presenting safety challenges, have also introduced new opportunities to public health and hope for a revitalized infrastructure.3 The types of terrorist threats that have resulted in recent increases in funding for building the public health infrastructure parallel the natural public health challenges that may be faced at any time (e.g., explosions, chemical exposures, and disease outbreaks). Preparation for current terrorist threats transfers to naturally occurring public health incidents.

First responders, health care professionals, and emergency medical personnel in the United States must be prepared to respond to terrorism knowledgeably and without delay. Many have stated that the public health infrastructure of the United States is inadequately equipped to address such attacks.4,5 Consequentially, education and training opportunities must be made available to health care and public health professionals and other first responders.6'7 To provide needed and desired information, those providing training must understand the attitudes and beliefs of potential trainees, in addition to training needs and interests.8

Training Purpose

The purpose of the preparedness training conferences entitled "Can It Happen in Kansas? Response to Terrorism & Emerging Infections," was to prepare a multidisciplinary health care workforce to address the medical consequences of terrorism that result from exposure to biologic, agroterrorist, chemical, nuclear, incendiary, or other weapons of mass destruction as well as public health emergencies. …