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ED staff need more training to ‘work in the dark’: study

Weather events so severe that they shut down electricity supplies, like the one South Australia saw in 2016, aren’t common – but they could have dire consequences for those in the ED.

That’s the reminder Dr Karen Hammad, a senior lecturer at Flinders University, is giving to staff.

“We were lucky that the blackout [in 2016] didn’t include mass casualties, but it presents an opportunity to consider how these relatively infrequent events could have high consequences,” Hammad said.

“While other cities around the world are more prone to disaster events, Australian cities are not immune to the risk of large-scale disasters and major incidents."

She said a major incident or disaster could significantly overwhelm existing resources and added ED staff will be front-line responders if this happens. "It is imperative that they are prepared."

Hammad and her research team – all of whom worked in emergency departments the day of SA’s blackout – wanted to hear more about the impact of a state-wide black systems event on emergency departments, so surveyed 42 nurses and 7 doctors, most of whom worked in a metropolitan ED.

While the majority had never been involved in a major incident of disaster, they had taken part in some form of disaster education or training.

The nurses and doctors said a lack of lighting and radiography, communication and patient tracking systems not working were the most common ways the EDs were impacted.

On top of more training for staff to prepare for future events, the study recommended better communication systems and testing of electrical systems.

Hammad said that health systems should have regular reviews of resources shortfalls and areas for improvement in case of large-scale disaster.

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