NOIRS: Are Emergency Responders Willing and Able to Respond?

A recent study of 5,000 healthcare-based emergency responders such as doctors, nurses and EMTs uncovered some interesting facts: many hospitals have no idea if their workers were able to respond to an emergency situation (trained to an emergency response plan) or if they were even willing to respond to an emergency.

According to researcher Robyn Gershon, MHS, DRPH, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, one-third of the responders surveyed were married to another responder; 54 percent were responsible for the care of children; and 27 percent said they were responsible for the care of elderly relatives.

Gershon, speaking at the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2003 (NOIRS), held this week in Pittsburgh, said her findings indicated responders had barriers to their ability to respond to an emergency, as well as barriers to their willingness to respond.

All in all, said Gershon, workers said their ability to respond would be limited by: transportation (32 percent); care of children (30 percent); personal health (5 percent); care of elderly relatives (11 percent0; and pet care (5 percent). Their willingness to respond would be limited by: fear for family (47 percent); fear for self (30 percent); their own health (13 percent).

Responders were asked about their ability and willingness to respond to specific emergencies. Most said they would be able (82 percent) and willing (85 percent) to respond to an explosion, while 80 percent said they would be able and 84 percent said they would be willing to respond to a fire. Less than half said they'd be able to respond to a snowstorm, but 80 percent said they'd be willing to respond during such an event. More than two-thirds of the respondents said they'd be willing and able to respond to a chemical event, and more than half said they'd be willing to respond to an emergency involving exposure to radiation. However, said Gershon, she was surprised to learn that fewer than half the respondents would be willing to respond to an event involving SARS. "I guess because they know so little about it," noted Gershon, although she admitted that education is not always key in increasing willingess to respond.

"The more knowledge they [study respondents] had about biological terror incidents, the less willing they were to respond," she noted. "And they more they heard about the side effects of the smallpox vaccination, the less willing they were to take it."

According to Gershon, "Effective emergency response requires system capacity; appropriate, effective emergency plans; and a competent, available workforce."

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