A casualty is a person hurt or killed by a dangerous event. Mass casualties are when many people are hurt all at once. Mass casualties can come from big accidents, such as a bad train crash, collapsed building, or chemical spill. Mass casualties also can come from intentional events, such as wars or terrorist attacks. Intentional attacks use mass casualty weapons, such as explosives, chemicals, and germs.
Mass casualty weapons are sometimes called weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Types of mass casualty weapons include:
Contamination is a problem with many types of mass casualty weapons.
The dangerous substance might keep affecting the person until it is removed (a process called decontamination). Also, the dangerous substance can spread to rescuers and, depending on what it is, to nearby areas in the community.
Sometimes the event is obvious, such as an explosion or chemical spill. Other times doctors don't realize mass casualty weapons have been used until many people get sick at the same time in the same place. Doctors come to realize mass casualty weapons were used because:
Preparation is critical. Before any event, communities and hospitals:
Create a written disaster plan so everyone knows what to do
Make sure there are ways to quickly bring in extra personnel, including police, paramedics, and doctors
Make sure there are plenty of medical supplies and protective equipment stored away, ready to be brought out
Make arrangements with nearby hospitals and communities to provide help if needed
Do practice drills on how to respond to a mass casualty event
State and federal governments also have plans for helping communities respond to a mass casualty weapon attack.
Right after an attack, emergency responders first check to see if the scene is still dangerous, such as with:
Checking for continued threats lets responders know what protective gear or personnel are required to make it safe to look for and treat casualties.
If contaminating substances were involved, first responders:
When it is safe to go to the injured people, first responders:
It's important for first responders doing triage to check everyone first and not just start treating the first casualty they see. Checking everyone makes sure that they find all the people with reversible life-threatening injuries who might be saved with immediate treatment.
When many people are seriously injured and near death, some who might be saved if they were the only injured person may have to be left until there's time to treat them. That's so that doctors can work on people who are more likely to live.