Lessening the psychological and emotional trauma of a mass-casualty event like a bombing, airplane crash or a natural disaster is the purpose of a new training program developed at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).

JIBC’s Simulation Training Exercise Collaboratory (SIMTEC) Project has launched a free, immersive, training-simulation exercise for first responders and emergency managers called Exercise Target Red. The purpose of the multimedia training tool is to practice handling a mass-casualty event in a way that more effectively addresses psychosocial needs of victims, witnesses, fellow first responders, and other members of the community affected by the emergency.

Follow this link for the exercise: http://simtec.jibc.ca/node/115

“The research with our international working group of experts found that the immediate and long-term emotional responses associated with mass-casualty events are reduced when people are provided psychological and social support early on, during, and also after, an incident,” said Dr. Laurie Pearce, JIBC’s Applied Research Chair and SIMTEC Co-Principal Investigator. “Exercise Target Red was designed to emphasize the importance of providing effective ‘psychological first aid’ as soon as possible.”

Quickly activating emergency social service agencies to facilitate counselling, family reunification and other needs for victims is emphasized in the training exercise. Such services limit the negative after effects of an event by:

Calming mass-casualty victims and the general public;
Promoting a sense of safety;
Providing a sense of connectedness;
Creating a sense of self and community worth among victims; and
Providing a sense hope.
Exercise Target Red also encourages incident commanders and other managers to recognize and respond to the challenges that fellow first responders and emergency personnel may be experiencing as they carry out their duties during a mass-casualty event.

“Our research found it was important for incident commanders and other emergency management leaders to look after the wellbeing of first responders and recognize the physical and non-verbal signs of stress facing those involved in an emergency response,” said Dr. Pearce. “Positive leadership is crucial to respond to the needs of all team members.”

“Looking at the psychosocial implications of disasters is an important area of research for the Canadian Safety and Security Program,” said Dr. Mark Williamson, Acting Director General of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science. “We are proud to contribute to improving the well-being of both victims and first responders by supporting projects like SIMTEC and Exercise Target Red.”

Even after a mass-casualty event is over, the work of emergency social service providers may be far from over. The SIMTEC research also found it was important for communities to have plans to provide ongoing support for victims that can include post-event reunification of victims and first responders.

Carolyn Sinclair with Police Victim Services of BC said, “The need for an organized and informed response to mass-casualty events is important now more than ever as we see and hear the world respond to attacks that result in mass-casualty incidents. The SIMTEC research promotes the use of strategies and best practices for emergency management personnel to provide the most appropriate psychological, emotional and physical care to those affected by mass-casualty events.”

This project is a collaborative effort between JIBC and Health Canada’s Employee Assistance Services as the Project Champion. It was initially funded through the former Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI), and continues under the Canadian Safety and Security Program, a federal program led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science, in partnership with Public Safety Canada.