EMS, Terrorism Response

Article Author:
Evan Avraham Alpert
Article Editor:
Shamai Grossman
Updated:
12/31/2018 11:18:07 AM
PubMed Link:
EMS, Terrorism Response

Introduction

Terrorism, unfortunately, continues to be perpetrated against innocent civilians throughout the world. This activity ranges from stabbings, shootings, bombings, or car rammings by the lone terrorist, to large-scale destructive acts such as that of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. One must also prepare for chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear terrorism (CBRN). A combination of extreme fundamentalist ideologies and social networking has accentuated terrorism in many parts of the world. To achieve their nefarious goals of inflicting as many casualties on civilians as possible, the terrorists choose to target places with high civilian concentration. Hence, they disproportionately attack urban areas such as buses, trains, shopping malls, and restaurants. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) must be prepared to deal with some of the unique challenges of terrorist attacks.

Issues of Concern

The safety of the EMS responder to the scene of a terrorist attack is the top priority. One needs to be aware of a secondary detonation of an explosive device, and it is often necessary to wait until the police bomb disposal experts verify that the scene is safe. In a shooting incident, if the perpetrator has not yet been neutralized, one must not approach the scene unless properly trained in tactical medicine with appropriate protective gear. A responder to a chemical, biological, or radiological attack needs to have the indicated personal protective equipment (PPE).  One must also be wary of building collapse as well as inhalation injuries after a fire.[1]

Blast Injuries

Terrorists pack their bombs with nails, bolts, and other metal objects to inflict maximum harm. They are made to be transported easily and then either hidden at the scene or strapped to the body of a suicide bomber. The four types of blast injury from urban bomb explosions result in large numbers of patients with devastating injuries.[2][3][4][5]

To inflict maximum death and harm, terrorists place the bombs to explode in closed spaces. Mortality is the highest in ultra-confined spaces such as buses or trains.[5] In general, there is a higher injury severity score, and surgical interventions are more intense for those presenting to the hospital following terrorist attacks than those presenting due to other trauma. 

Primary blast injury occurs secondary to the effects of the blast wave. Forces such as spalling, acceleration, implosion mechanisms as well as pressure differences cause devastating effects on structures in the body containing air such as the tympanic membranes, lungs, and bowels. Tympanic membrane perforation occurs in more than 50% of patients exposed to a blast of greater than 15-50 psi. These perforations can be a marker of coexisting injuries such as a blast lung which requires higher pressures of 50-100 psi and may present subtly. Air emboli in the coronary or pulmonary vessels may be a primary cause of death.[4][5]  

Secondary blast injury, a form of penetrating trauma, results from shrapnel such as flying pieces of metal, glass, and other objects. One should beware that even benign, superficial appearing skin wounds may indicate significant injury due to the penetration of metal bolts, nails, and pellets. Biologic foreign body implantation may also occur due to flying bone fragments from the suicide bomber, other victims, or the patient himself.[6][7][8][9]

The lungs may be affected by primary blast lung injury or lacerations from secondary mechanisms. Both may present as a pneumothorax. Hemothorax is less common in a classic blast injury.[4][5]

Tertiary blast injury results from the blast throwing the victim. This type of injury is accentuated in closed and ultra-confined spaces as the victim's body may be propelled against stationary objects causing blunt trauma, amputation or death.

Quaternary blast injuries include burns caused either by the explosion itself, or by other flammable substances in the area. These may consist of all types of classic burn injuries including chemical, and contact burns. Others included in this category: asphyxia, inhalational trauma, radiation exposure, and psychological effects of the event.[10]

Often the blast causes a combination of injuries including blunt and penetrating injury as well as burns. This combination of injuries is known as the multidimensional injury pattern and is unique to bomb explosions.[11]

Penetrating Trauma

Stabbings from terrorists differ from non-terrorist stabbings. They are more frequently on the upper part of the body, carried out with large knives and involve multiple stab wounds.[12] Shootings range from those with handguns to semiautomatic rifles. Because semiautomatic rifles can accept magazines with large numbers of bullets, as well as high-velocity rounds, more people were killed and wounded in incidents that involved semiautomatic weapons compared to other types of firearms.[13]

Targeted Automobile Ramming MAss Casualty (TARMAC) attacks

A recent choice of terror has been car and truck ramming known as Targeted Automobile Ramming MAss Casualty (TARMAC) attacks. The size/weight of the vehicle, as well as the body part hit, will determine the extent of the injury pattern. Blunt injury to the head, torso, abdomen, and extremities are common.[14]

Chemical Terrorism

Accessibility to chemical or toxicological substances renders them potential weapons in the hands of terrorists. Possible agents include organophosphates used as insecticides or irritants such as chlorine and ammonia. However, it can also involve agents that don't have industrial use, including asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide or vesicants such as mustard gas.[15]

Biologic Terrorism

Biologic terrorism encompasses events such as infecting others with salmonella or anthrax by individual attackers or the large-scale spread of biologic agents by a terrorist organization. Maximum effect could be perpetrated by airborne spread although contamination of the food and water supply can also occur.  The most lethal agents include those in Tier 1 (Formerly Group A and the most significant risk to public health): anthrax, tularemia, hemorrhagic fever viruses, and botulism.[16]

Nuclear Terrorism

Nuclear terrorism includes the detonation of a nuclear bomb by terrorists, an explosion of a dirty bomb, or the takeover of a nuclear facility. It may also involve dispersing nuclear material into a water supply. It is worth noting that percussion forces, projectiles, and thermal injuries killed the majority of victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as opposed to radiation. The biologic effects of radiation exposure occur between 2 and 10 Gy (less than this amount the victim probably won't require medical intervention and more than this the person won’t survive). The most immediate problems are bone marrow suppression and damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Long-term effects include thyroid cancer, solid tumors, and leukemia.[17]

Clinical Significance

Command, control, and communication require emphasis. EMS, as well as hospital administrators, should be included as it is essential to anticipate surge capacity. The inclusion of all local hospitals is essential in contingency plans as the number of severely injured patients may be overwhelming even for a level 1 trauma center.[18]  

As pertains to the command structure, consider the inclusion of a Law Enforcement Medical Coordinator (LEMC) who is a tactical medical officer and understands both tactical and EMS issues. They would be involved in any operational input and would serve as a liaison with EMS and the fire department. They can advise on limitations to the operational aspect of the medical plans, integrate between the protection and rescue elements of the response team. They need to continuously monitor and updated threats to the law enforcement staff in the hot zone and EMS and fire department staff in the warm zone.

The area around the attack, (especially if caused by CBRN), needs to be cordoned off into an inner danger zone, a hot zone (non-permissive zone), warm zone (semi-permissive zone), and an outer cold zone (permissive zone) where the casualty clearing station is placed. These warm or cold zones are typically where triage occurs.

Security is essential at the scene of the event. There have been numerous instances of secondary bombings where an additional intentional device or bomber detonated after pre-hospital providers entered the scene, resulting in rescuers then becoming victims. This fact means that health responders require verification from police or security services that the site is safe before they enter a scene and begin resuscitation and rescue efforts. Any tactical medical officers should have personal protective equipment that includes Kevlar or body armor. If the sprinklers go off in the building, then the providers need to be prepared to work in a wet environment and need to be wary of electric shocks. The casualty collection point needs to be outside of any area which may be threatened by the terrorist or potential bomb. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) receive instruction in S-C-ABC- safety first, catastrophic hemorrhage, and then the ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation).

In instances with multiple terrorists, there may be numerous areas which are cordoned off and unsafe. Some countries and jurisdictions have created a Hazardous Area Response team whereby prehospital personnel with tactical training and appropriate equipment, enter the danger zone. However, this is usually by law enforcement personnel, such as SWAT paramedics, who should only perform basic life-saving procedures such as massive hemorrhage control, opening the airway, and rapid evacuation. They need to be mobile and therefore don’t carry enough equipment for sustained care for large numbers of casualties.[19]

In contrast to this, the permissive environment (cold zone) is a safe area and includes the ability to administer RSI or advanced analgesia and performance of other procedures.[20] The warm zone (semi-permissive environment) is in a spectrum between the non-permissive and permissive areas. In this area, the immediate threat is no longer active. If this is due to CBRN, then proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is required. Besides stopping major bleeding with tourniquets, and continuing basic airway management, one should also treat pneumothorax at this point with needle application.

Other protocols exist for first responders to terrorist MCIs. One is the “3 Echo Protocol- Enter, Evaluate, and Evacuate” which emphasizes early identification of casualties, usually by law enforcement and early treatment of life-threatening hemorrhage, and safe evacuation.[21] Another approach uses the THREAT acronym- Threat suppression, Hemorrhage control, Rapid extrication, Assessment, and Transport.[22]

Triage

Various field triage strategies exist. These include: START (Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment: the ability to obey commands, assess respiratory rate, and radial pulse or capillary refill), SALT (Sort, Assess, Life-Saving Interventions, Treatment, and/or Transport), Triage Sieve and Sort (using respiratory rate and either capillary refill or heart rate), or CareFlight Triage (ability to obey commands, the presence of respiration, and being able to palpate a radial pulse). Implementation of one of these protocols is essential.[23],[24]

After extensive experience with suicide bombing, Magen David Adom (MDA - Israel’s Emergency Medical Services) during the years 2002-2005, successfully adopted the concept of "save and run." The only actions performed at the scene are for hemorrhage control (application of bandages and tourniquets) and the advanced life support actions of airway control/intubation and needle application for tension pneumothorax. The most severely injured patients are usually taken to the closest level one trauma centers. However, other considerations such as the large numbers of casualties or severity of life-threatening injury may result in patient transport to the nearest medical centers for emergency treatment and stabilization. Some patients will then undergo secondary transfer to a level one trauma center.[25]

Catastrophic Hemorrhage

Direct pressure with bandages is the initial protocol. Tourniquets should be applied to the extremities when required due to life-threatening arterial bleeding. It is to remember to tighten the windlass component properly. One can also use hemostatic agents, with or without junctional tourniquets, to areas such as the axilla and groin. Elevating and splinting of affected limbs is crucial. If the pelvis is unstable then using a sheet as a binder may be necessary.[26]

Chemical Terrorism

The EMS responder must don appropriate protective gear. The PPE ranges from Level A which consists of a chemically resistant suit and full-face self-contained breathing apparatus to Level D which consists of overalls and no respiratory protection. The higher the level of equipment, the more challenging it will be to the EMS provider to operate.  It is notable that some experts advocate the decontamination of all toxicological mass casualty victims at the hospital. The EMS provider while in protective gear can undress the victim in the ambulance and then proper decontamination can be done at the hospital. Basic resuscitation protocols and antidotes can be provided on the ambulance.[15]

Biological Terrorism

Depending on the type of agent, precautions need to be taken by EMS personnel. These range from contact and airborne precautions to the need for N95 protective respirators. The patient may have to be isolated from other patients both pre-hospital as well as in the hospital. The EMS provider may require pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis for including for smallpox and anthrax.[16]

Radiological and nuclear terrorism

Management of a radiological disaster must be with personal protection that includes masks, eye protection, gowns, gloves, and boots. There will also be a hot zone, a warm zone (buffer zone), and cold zone. The victims should be evaluated with a Geiger counter to identify their contamination level with radioactive material. If contaminated, they should undergo decontamination. Clothes should be removed and double bagged. Then face rinsing with skin washing with soap and water is next. Internal decontamination may later be necessary.[27]

Stress

Terrorist attacks can be at least as emotionally intense as any other major mass casualty event; EMS providers frequently suffer from at least short-term post-traumatic stress. Counseling for critical incident stress is a recommended strategy. Empathetic care must begin from the time the patient arrives in the emergency department and continue throughout the process of their medical care.[28] To prevent depression and PTSD, disaster preparedness training, critical incident stress debriefing, and shift work in prolonged responses are helpful.

Conclusion

  • Always ensure scene safety before first responders can be allowed on site.
  • Coordination of personnel and medical resources is critical.
  • Awareness of the multidimensionality of blast injury especially if combined with a CBRN material. This may include a clinical scenario of head injury, burns, blast lung, and intra-abdominal or thoracic injury as well as contamination from chemical, biological, or nuclear material.

References

[1] Thompson J,Rehn M,Lossius HM,Lockey D, Risks to emergency medical responders at terrorist incidents: a narrative review of the medical literature. Critical care (London, England). 2014 Sep 24     [PubMed PMID: 25323086]
[2] Frykberg ER, Medical management of disasters and mass casualties from terrorist bombings: how can we cope? The Journal of trauma. 2002 Aug     [PubMed PMID: 12169923]
[3] Frykberg ER, Principles of mass casualty management following terrorist disasters. Annals of surgery. 2004 Mar     [PubMed PMID: 15075647]
[4] Mellor SG,Cooper GJ, Analysis of 828 servicemen killed or injured by explosion in Northern Ireland 1970-84: the Hostile Action Casualty System. The British journal of surgery. 1989 Oct     [PubMed PMID: 2597940]
[5] Katz E,Ofek B,Adler J,Abramowitz HB,Krausz MM, Primary blast injury after a bomb explosion in a civilian bus. Annals of surgery. 1989 Apr     [PubMed PMID: 2930293]
[6] Eshkol Z,Katz K, Injuries from biologic material of suicide bombers. Injury. 2005 Feb     [PubMed PMID: 15664591]
[7] Wong JM,Marsh D,Abu-Sitta G,Lau S,Mann HA,Nawabi DH,Patel H, Biological foreign body implantation in victims of the London July 7th suicide bombings. The Journal of trauma. 2006 Feb     [PubMed PMID: 16508503]
[8] Clint BD, Force protection and infectious risk mitigation from suicide bombers. Military medicine. 2009 Jul     [PubMed PMID: 19685842]
[9] Patel HD,Dryden S,Gupta A,Stewart N, Human body projectiles implantation in victims of suicide bombings and implications for health and emergency care providers: the 7/7 experience. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 2012 Jul     [PubMed PMID: 22943225]
[10] Mathews ZR,Koyfman A, Blast Injuries. The Journal of emergency medicine. 2015 Oct     [PubMed PMID: 26072319]
[11] Kluger Y,Kashuk J,Mayo A, Terror bombing-mechanisms, consequences and implications. Scandinavian journal of surgery : SJS : official organ for the Finnish Surgical Society and the Scandinavian Surgical Society. 2004     [PubMed PMID: 15116813]
[12] Merin O,Sonkin R,Yitzhak A,Frenkel H,Leiba A,Schwarz AD,Jaffe E, Terrorist Stabbings-Distinctive Characteristics and How to Prepare for Them. The Journal of emergency medicine. 2017 Oct     [PubMed PMID: 29079065]
[13] de Jager E,Goralnick E,McCarty JC,Hashmi ZG,Jarman MP,Haider AH, Lethality of Civilian Active Shooter Incidents With and Without Semiautomatic Rifles in the United States. JAMA. 2018 Sep 11     [PubMed PMID: 30208444]
[14] Shokoohi H,Pourmand A,Boniface K,Allen R,Petinaux B,Sarani B,Phillips JP, The utility of point-of-care ultrasound in targeted automobile ramming mass casualty (TARMAC) attacks. The American journal of emergency medicine. 2018 Aug     [PubMed PMID: 29861368]
[15] Markel G,Krivoy A,Rotman E,Schein O,Shrot S,Brosh-Nissimov T,Dushnitsky T,Eisenkraft A, Medical management of toxicological mass casualty events. The Israel Medical Association journal : IMAJ. 2008 Nov     [PubMed PMID: 19070282]
[16] Green MS,LeDuc J,Cohen D,Franz DR, Confronting the threat of bioterrorism: realities, challenges, and defensive strategies. The Lancet. Infectious diseases. 2018 Oct 16     [PubMed PMID: 30340981]
[17] Gale RP,Armitage JO, Are We Prepared for Nuclear Terrorism? The New England journal of medicine. 2018 Mar 29     [PubMed PMID: 29590541]
[18] Einav S,Feigenberg Z,Weissman C,Zaichik D,Caspi G,Kotler D,Freund HR, Evacuation priorities in mass casualty terror-related events: implications for contingency planning. Annals of surgery. 2004 Mar     [PubMed PMID: 15075645]
[19] Bobko JP,Sinha M,Chen D,Patterson S,Baldridge T,Eby M,Harris W,Starling R,Lichtman O, A Tactical Medicine After-action Report of the San Bernardino Terrorist Incident. The western journal of emergency medicine. 2018 Mar     [PubMed PMID: 29560056]
[20] Chauhan R,Conti BM,Keene D, Marauding terrorist attack (MTA): prehospital considerations. Emergency medicine journal : EMJ. 2018 Jun     [PubMed PMID: 29572386]
[21] Autrey AW,Hick JL,Bramer K,Berndt J,Bundt J, 3 Echo: concept of operations for early care and evacuation of victims of mass violence. Prehospital and disaster medicine. 2014 Aug     [PubMed PMID: 24909363]
[22] Jacobs LM Jr, The Hartford Consensus IV: A Call for Increased National Resilience. Connecticut medicine. 2016 Apr     [PubMed PMID: 27265929]
[23] Ryan K,George D,Liu J,Mitchell P,Nelson K,Kue R, The Use of Field Triage in Disaster and Mass Casualty Incidents: A Survey of Current Practices by EMS Personnel. Prehospital emergency care : official journal of the National Association of EMS Physicians and the National Association of State EMS Directors. 2018 Jul-Aug     [PubMed PMID: 29425472]
[24] Garner A,Lee A,Harrison K,Schultz CH, Comparative analysis of multiple-casualty incident triage algorithms. Annals of emergency medicine. 2001 Nov     [PubMed PMID: 11679866]
[25] Feigenberg Z, [The pre-hospital medical treatment of the victims of multi-casualty incidents caused by explosions of suicide bombers during the Al-Aksa Intifada--April 2001 to December 2004: the activity and experience gained by the teams of Magen David Adom in Israel]. Harefuah. 2010 Jul     [PubMed PMID: 21465752]
[26] van Oostendorp SE,Tan EC,Geeraedts LM Jr, Prehospital control of life-threatening truncal and junctional haemorrhage is the ultimate challenge in optimizing trauma care; a review of treatment options and their applicability in the civilian trauma setting. Scandinavian journal of trauma, resuscitation and emergency medicine. 2016 Sep 13     [PubMed PMID: 27623805]
[27] Bui E,Joseph B,Rhee P,Diven C,Pandit V,Brown CV, Contemporary management of radiation exposure and injury. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 2014 Sep     [PubMed PMID: 25159256]
[28] Dolberg OT,Barkai G,Leor A,Rapoport H,Bloch M,Schreiber S, Injured civilian survivors of suicide bomb attacks: from partial PTSD to recovery or to traumatisation. Where is the turning point? The world journal of biological psychiatry : the official journal of the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry. 2010 Mar     [PubMed PMID: 20218797]