The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing may have generated more emergency action plans among sports teams than any event before or since. But 10 years later it’s fair to ask, are those plans up to date?
News headlines, whether about a mass casualty event or a single downed athlete, tend to galvanize people to action. But sports emergencies can happen at any time, which is why it’s important for schools and communities to keep their emergency plans top of mind and up to date.
“The biggest thing is to be prepared and have a plan for every game and every practice,” said Dawn Mattern, MD, FAMSSM, a board-certified Family Practice/Sports Medicine physician and medical director of Trinity Health Sports Medicine.
Trinity’s team of certified athletic trainers are equipped to respond to any contingency, whether injury management, mass casualty care, concussion management or emergency response. “Our role is to have action plans for every venue,” said Barb Nesheim, a 23-year veteran of Trinity’s Sports Medicine program. “We make an assessment at every site and ask, ‘What is the worst that can happen here?”
With 16 certified athletic trainers, Trinity Sports Medicine professionals fan out among numerous teams in and around Minot and Bottineau. Even so, they can’t be present at every game and every practice, which is why it’s essential for coaches and teams to be prepared.
“It comes down to deciding who’s going to help the downed athlete, who is going to call for help, who’s going to open the gate and show the ambulance how to get to the gym,” Mattern explained. “Do we have the supplies that we need? Do we know how to access the AED (Automated External Defibrillator)? Those decisions have to be made for each specific site, and if you don’t think those things through, you won’t have a good outcome.”
Spectators can play a role. A bystander can be helpful directing an ambulance, for example. But spectators need to respect the working space of the athletic trainer who has the experience and know how to handle on-the-field emergencies. “We don’t rise to the occasion; we do what we’ve been trained to do,” Nesheim said.
Athletic trainers have been a catalyst when it comes to encouraging entities to draft emergency preparedness plans for sporting events. “My hope is that they’ve been updated and not tucked away and forgotten,” Mattern said.
Venues change over time due to construction activity, weather or ground conditions. For example, when Minot’s South Hill Softball Complex was under construction, Nesheim says she had to rethink what route an ambulance would need to take to get to a player on the field.
Meanwhile, Trinity Health is taking steps to improve its own readiness. The Sports Medicine team is engaged in efforts to expand the number of AEDs (automated external defibrillators) available to its certified athletic trainers in the hope of acquiring one for each trainer. “With any luck, none of them will get used,” Nesheim said.