Heart-Stopping Action: Whether It's a Sporting Event or a Rock Concert, Medical Emergencies Can Spoil the Fun and Create Liability Unless Management Plans Ahead

By Jolly, B. Tilman; Martinez, Ricardo | Security Management, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Heart-Stopping Action: Whether It's a Sporting Event or a Rock Concert, Medical Emergencies Can Spoil the Fun and Create Liability Unless Management Plans Ahead


Jolly, B. Tilman, Martinez, Ricardo, Security Management


During construction for a major sports event, a hydraulic lift topples, sending a construction worker falling three stories. He suffers serious head trauma and other injuries. At a political convention at a downtown convention center, more than 100 attendees are stricken with severe food poisoning. At least one death is attributed to the incident. At an annual rock concert held in a major football stadium, a thun-derstorm approaches but is ignored by patrons. Several concertgoers are struck by lightning, setting off a stampede for the exits that prevents emergency medical teams from quickly reaching the victims. One patron requires a dramatic resuscitation from cardiac arrest and becomes a major local news story.

As these real-life cases demonstrate, medical service providers at large public events have to be prepared for a lot more than cuts and bruises, dehydration, and broken bones. To be sure, minor medical issues constitute the majority of incidents faced by an on-site medical team. But, especially in an era of heightened fears of terrorism, these teams must be prepared for a range of more serious situations.

To ensure adequate medical services at a large event--while balancing those services with security--providers must bring together key players, assess threats, conduct illness surveillance, train staff, arrange medical transportation, implement communications with staff and the public, keep records, and address insurance concerns.

Integrating key players. A critical step in medical-management planning is cooperation among all agencies or departments that could potentially respond to an incident at a large venue or event. Whoever is spearheading the effort must get everyone to overcome any political barriers or rivalries. The leader can then draw on the collective wisdom of these experts to consider threat possibilities, integrate disaster planning into planning for routine operations, and set up communications systems.

Among the agencies and authorities that need to be brought into the process are venue management, security, EMS, local hospitals, police, fire, local emergency management, public health, and the local political community. In the authors' experience, planners fail to involve some of these key players in the early stages. For example, local hospitals are often left out of the mix. They should be brought early on into discussions of how emergencies will be handled, including information about the capabilities of the venue and what might be asked of the hospitals if an incident occurs.

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The authors' firm contacts local health agencies and hospitals in advance of an event. The firm gives these facilities specific information on the nature of the upcoming event, the expected crowd size, likely vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow, and other factors that might affect what sorts of incidents could arise and how much staffing will be needed.

In addition, it's a good idea to get the support of an aid organization such as the Red Cross. The Red Cross is especially effective at working with local disaster authorities and cataloging victims.

The Super Bowl is an example of a large event that requires coordination of communications and training among various federal, state, and local authorities, including law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services (EMS), public health, hospitals, and even public works. At both the New Orleans and San Diego Super Bowls, early planning also ensured that the Red Cross was on hand to distribute supplies such as blankets, food, and water, if necessary. (The authors have provided an increasing array of medical services for 16 Super Bowls.)

Assess threats. Planners who provide medical services must, in conjunction with other key players, assess the threats that might arise and the types of medical services that might be needed if any such incident occurred. For example, before Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego on January 26, 2003, medical and security teams worked together to examine threat possibilities and create systems of response for disasters. …

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