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Hazmat Expert Advises Fellow RTs on Disaster Readiness

Respiratory care departments across the country are currently scrambling to prepare for potential outbreaks of bio or chemical terrorist attacks. As more is known about the way these weapons could impact their victims, it is crystal clear that RTs will play a major role in their care.

Frank Rando, RRT, a certified and trained Hazardous Materials Specialist who has published extensively on chemical and biological disasters, offers the following checklist for his colleagues:

  • All respiratory therapists should be cross trained to administer atropine and 2-PAM-chloride, as well as other antidotal preparations to counteract the effects of nerve agents, other organophosphates such as acute pesticide exposures, and other chemical agents which may compromise cardiorespiratory function.
  • All respiratory therapists must receive training on the nature of these chem-bio agents, pathophysiology of chem-bio exposures, and current treatment modalities that apply to chem-bio exposures.
  • Respiratory therapists and their departments must be prepared to rapidly mobilize in the event of an attack. They must also be ready to provide conventional life support such as airway management and ventilatory assistance at a moment's notice.
  • RTs must be thoroughly familiar with the use of personal protective equipment and decontamination procedures.
  • All therapists should become more knowledgeable about the use of transport ventilators such as those used by air medical services.
  • More involvement in community disaster planning is required by our profession, such as membership on Local Emergency Planning Committees and active participation in both institutional and community-wide drills.
  • Respiratory therapists also should take full advantage of the many fine, free materials and independent study courses available, such as: "Emergency Response To Terrorism" and "Hazardous Materials Orientation For Health Care Providers," offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (www.fema.gov). The Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also offer free educational materials and programs, including satellite conferences, CD-ROMs, and various online and hardcopy publications such as "Managing Hazardous Materials Incidents" and "Medical Management of Chemically-Contaminated Patients" (www.cdc.gov).
  • More RTs should become affiliated with Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), and all RTs should become familiar with the overall structure and resources of the National Disaster Medical System and its components, such as DMATs and the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, as well as institutional and community-wide disaster activation/operations plans.
  • RTs should become more vigilant and security conscious in and around their respective facilities and communities and forge closer relationships with security and public safety officials. Medical threat assessment includes vulnerability analysis of medical care facilities and personnel.

Rando, who is also a member of the AARC's Ad Hoc Committee on Disaster Response, published an article on hazardous materials and terrorism, "This Is Not A Drill: Responding To Hazmat Incidents And Terrorism," in the May 2001 issue of AARC Times.

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