First Receivers Staying on Top of Their Game

There are first responders, of course, those who arrive first on the scene of an incident and who play a critical role in emergencies involving injuries and casualties, but, there are also first receivers who primarily operate in hospitals. These professionals are increasingly expected to be well versed in other public safety domains in preparation for disastrous events.

A report published by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), for example, indicates that first receivers are expected to have been trained in treatment methods necessary to respond to “releases of chemicals, radiological particles, and biological agents (overt releases) that result in victims who may need decontamination prior to administration of medical care.” Any first receiver well used to dealing with cuts, broken bones, and concussions, may not be so comfortable dealing quickly with treatment methods in variety of decontamination scenarios.

All this serves to underscore how important communication is among first receivers. It is critical to first receivers in order to coordinate efforts, share best practices, connect with dispersed project teams, and stay on top of their game.

Effective communications channels must reach outside of their respective facilities to other hospitals or to regional public safety agencies.

To foster such collaboration, DHS S&T created the First Responder Communities of Practice , a professional networking, information sharing, and project collaboration platform for those working in homeland security related fields. Because of their vital connection to emergency response, the site has emerged as a way for first receivers to access resources remotely, seek expert advice, and participate in discussions with colleagues about important issues in the field.

S&T’s Communities of Practice has become the “go to” place for sharing information and accessing resources with trusted colleagues. Members use discussion forums, wikis, shared document repositories, and other tools to access the information they need at any time.

Consider a recent case of a hospital administrator with questions about standardized emergency response codes, and whether the adoption of national standards would benefit medical practitioners. Response codes enable administrators to quickly relay information, such as the nature of the emergency and status of operations to staff when fast action is critical. Members of the Hospital Emergency Preparedness and Response Community and the Emergency Management Community used the discussion forum and blog tools to share their knowledge and local experiences with the use and standardization of emergency response codes. Some members even explored the possibility of doing away with the coding system in this context in favor of plain language communications so as to avoid confusion. In addition to the discussion board, members have also used the document repository tool to compare frameworks and templates, in order to make improvements to existing processes.

Knox Andress, at the Louisiana Poison Center and Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, described his experience with the site: “In my local jurisdiction, the role of social media has been a topic for policy and procedure development in local hospitals and agencies. We’ve been able to find useful guidance and examples from a wide range and distribution of jurisdictions within the ‘Make America Safer through Social Media Community.’ I would have been challenged to find the same resources before implementation of the First Responder Communities of Practice site.” Andress is the current Community Administrator of the Hospital Emergency Preparedness Community on the site.

Recent examples of information and resource sharing on the site include a tool for public health assessment of a community after a disaster, information about joint criminal/epidemiological investigation workshops, national public health capability standards, surge capacity handbooks, and other information provided by colleagues. These resources are available to first receivers at any time, from any location, and at no cost.

Other topics that community members hope to collaborate on include mass casualty incidents, surge capacity planning, evacuation and quarantine procedures, triage, hazmat response, disaster alternate care facilities, equipment standards, mobile technology, grants, and community resilience planning. Effective preparation for these topics is crucial given the other circumstances that exacerbate emergencies, such as power outages and the use of protective equipment. Communities of Practice enables practitioners to leverage the knowledge of their colleagues across the country and reduce risk to hospital personnel, patients, and the general public.

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