By Stephanie Murphy, Canadian Red Cross communications coordinator

In late November 2016, the Ecuadorian Red Cross, with support from the Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli National Red Cross Society, conducted mass-casualty incident (MCI) training in Ecuador. An MCI is a situation – natural or man-made – where emergency crews become overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many Red Cross National Societies respond to MCIs in their home countries; these Societies then share their knowledge with other Societies to improve their response capabilities.  The training in Ecuador involved a simulated MCI and a practice deployment of their Emergency Medical Unit, all with the goal of better equipping the Ecuadorian Red Cross to respond to MCIs.

Members of the Ecuadorian Red Cross respond to a bus crash
Members of the Ecuadorian Red Cross respond to a bus crash along the Panamerican Highway. /Photo credit: Ecuadorian Red Cross
First responders demonstrate helping the victim of an MCI at an MCI Workshop
First responders demonstrate helping the victim of an MCI at an MCI Workshop. /Photo credit: MDA
Observing an MCI simulation
Members of various Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies observe an MCI simulation. /Photo credit: MDA

What an MCI can look like

On Friday, December 6, 2016, a bus carrying 53 people along the Panamerican highway near Oyocoto, Ecuador hit a wall and skidded off the side of a cliff. A bus crash is an example of an MCI – the exact kind of situation the Ecuadorian Red Cross had been trained to respond to just three weeks prior. Members of the Ecuadorian Red Cross technical team, along with 10 ambulances and their Emergency Medical Unit responded to the crash site, using the skills and procedures they’d learned at their MCI training.

Learning to be better prepared

With 192 National Societies, members of the Red Cross Movement often have opportunities to learn from the experiences of others. Responding to MCIs is something that many National Societies do regularly; those that don’t respond regularly, however, still must be ready. This is true of the Canadian Red Cross – we regularly respond to emergencies and disasters at home and abroad, but have never responded to an MCI here in Canada. Taking advantage of training opportunities within the Red Cross Movement ensures that we’re equipped to respond if an MCI were to ever happen here.

In September 2016, MDA hosted an MCI workshop in Tel Aviv, Israel. The event was organized in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Norwegian Red Cross. The workshop involved a simulated MCI – an explosion in the parking lot of a large shopping mall – where emergency responders had to take action, as well as knowledge sharing among Red Cross staff and volunteers from around the globe.

Sebastien Jouffroy, Emergency Response Unit manager; Laura Archer, Global Health Unit medical coordinator; and Dr. Ron McMillan of Burlington, Ontario, a medical aid worker with the Canadian Red Cross Emergency Field Hospital, attended the training on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross. By coming together to discuss these responses, the Red Cross can find what works best in different situations; this leads to a better response in future MCIs. Sebastien explains that this training also allows the Canadian Red Cross to develop connections with other National Societies for future knowledge sharing.

Responding to disasters domestically and around the world

In addition to better preparing the Canadian Red Cross to respond at home, workshops and training also help better prepare us to respond internationally to disasters. The Canadian Red Cross emergency field hospital can be sent to respond to a large-scale disaster on very short notice and is made up of trained personnel and equipment. Training for international medical and technical staff is extensive and involves a simulated disaster response similar to the one at the MCI workshop. Dr. McMillan facilitates trainings for Red Cross personnel deployed with the field hospital and will be able to use the knowledge he learned when helping to train future humanitarian aid workers.

Regardless of the nature of the MCI, Sebastien names certain factors that were frequently discussed at the workshop and that are essential to response: coordinating with authorities and emergency services, ensuring the safety of victims, responders and bystanders, and properly equipping and training responders. These are the kind of procedures and skills the Ecuadorian Red Cross learned at their MCI workshop, and later employed to help victims of the bus crash. By learning from the successes other National Societies have had in these areas, the Canadian Red Cross can use the best possible practices to keep Canadians safe.