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Disaster preparedness is an area of major concern for the medical community that has been reinforced by recent world events. The emergency healthcare system must respond to all types of disasters, whether the incidents occur in urban or rural settings. Although the barriers and challenges are different in the rural setting, common areas of preparedness must be explored.
This study sought to answer several questions, including: (1) What are rural emergency medical services (EMS) organizations training for, compared to what they actually have seen during the last two years?; (2) What scale and types of events do they believe they are prepared to cope with?; and (3) What do they feel are priority areas for training and preparedness?
Data were gathered through a multi-region survey of 1,801 EMS organizations in the US to describe EMS response experiences during specific incidents as well as the frequency with which these events occur. Respondents were asked a number of questions about local priorities.
A total of 768 completed surveys were returned (43%). Over the past few years, training for commonly occurring types of crises and emergencies has declined in favor of terrorism preparedness. Many rural EMS organizations reported that events with 10 or fewer victims would overload them. Low priority was placed on interacting with other non-EMS disaster response agencies, and high priority was placed on basic staff training and retention.
Maintaining viable, rural, emergency response capabilities and developing a community-wide response to natural or man-made events is crucial to mitigate long-term effects of disasters on a local healthcare system. The assessment of preparedness activities accomplished in this study will help to identify common themes to better prioritize preparedness activities and maximize the response capabilities of an EMS organization.
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