GW to help guide government response to terrorist attacks, natural disasters

Updated: Nov. 19, 2014 at 7:20 p.m.

If a tragedy with mass casualties were to happen in D.C., GW will have already planned out how the federal government’s first responders would react.

GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences was one of four universities chosen this fall to work with the federal government on ways to improve responses to emergencies with a large number of victims. The University will receive more than $1.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the next few years to help develop the National Preparedness System.

The award will be used to train first responders from across the country as part of a national training program. The University will run that program with the Department of Homeland Security to educate and prepare entire communities for large-scale attacks, including terrorist acts and technological hazards.

Geoff Shapiro, director of emergency medical services at SMHS, said traditional response systems can delay first responders from reaching and treating victims. The grant will allow GW to revamp those policies.

“The grant enables GW to take new response models and patient treatment guidelines and educate the response community in the need for immediate point of wounding care, and how to deliver it while mitigating and managing the perceived risk,” Shapiro said.

Several SMHS courses already address emergency responses, but Shapiro said new courses might be added as the number of potential threats increases. Shapiro said those courses would focus on “high-threat, asymmetric events, such as complex terrorist attacks.”

Leana Wen, an associate professor of emergency medicine, responded to the Boston Marathon bombings, and said she learned that coordination was crucial while working in an emergency room.

“I was in the ER on the day of the marathon bombing, and I think having experienced that firsthand, I very much appreciate being prepared,” she said. “It was the first responders who arguably made the biggest difference. They were the ones who held the crowds back. They were the ones who got them to the hospital in time.”

Wen said it was also critical for first responders to be prepared to treat trauma victims during disasters.

“We don’t want people to be reactive in a time of mass casualty or disaster. It is one of confusion and one that is highly emotional, especially if it involved your own city,” Wen said. “That’s why it’s critical to be prepared and be trained in the event in case of the disaster. It’s important for us to be good citizens.”

The University of Maryland, Norwich University and Frederick Community College will also participate in the program and received grants ranging from about $800,000 to more than $2 million.

The Department of Homeland Security has awarded over $40 billion for preparedness grants to partners across the country.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW had already received the more than $1.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will actually give that money to the University over time as work is completed. We regret this error.

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