As a member of the Canadian Red Cross Public Affairs team, I had the opportunity to visit the Red Cross Emergency Response Unit (ERU) during a training exercise in June. I was in awe of the amount of work and training that is involved. A team of about 40 highly skilled medical and non-medical experts spend one week on a training exercise where they learn to assemble the field hospital in conditions that simulate an actual deployment.
The ERU, supported by the Government of Canada, is the first of its kind in North America. It’s a mobile hospital prepared for rapid deployment with teams that depart within 24-48 hours following a disaster or conflict. The ERU is designed to be operational within 12 hours of arrival on site and self-sufficient for one month. The hospital, complete with an operating theatre and emergency wards, can provide in-patient care and surgical services for up to 300 patients a day.
The Red Cross aims to train at least 300 delegates including surgeons, pediatricians, radiation technologists, laboratory technologists, OB/GYNs, nurses, psycho-social support workers, community health workers, anesthetists, and midwives. It also includes experts in medical logistics, communications, administration and technical support.
Once trained, the team can be deployed with the ERU in times of disaster or conflict when the existing health system or infrastructure has been damaged or overwhelmed. ERUs like this are critical because they help fill the gap in the immediate aftermath of an emergency when a country’s existing systems can be temporarily overloaded or absent altogether.
Prior to deployment, all delegates go through a week-long intensive training program that includes some classroom sessions and a simulation exercise that mimics a disaster or conflict environment. As part of the simulation, the delegates learn to put up the tents that they sleep and work in, get acquainted with the medical equipment and supplies available to them and ‘treat’ volunteers who act as patients. It is a life-like simulation that exposes delegates to challenges they may come across in the field and the types of injuries/diseases they may be faced with.
The training also includes a mass casualty simulation exercise. As a Red Cross staff person, I volunteered to participate in the simulation by playing the role of a patient.
The response from the ERU delegates during the mass casualty simulation was amazing. Within minutes they were triaging patients based on different levels of injuries and assigning medical and non-medical staff to various tasks to ensure patients were taken care of. The team worked to treat all patients and handled all of the plot twists we threw at them with ease. As would be expected in any mass casualty, there were some challenges in communicating and organizing everyone inside the hospital, but the team was able to identify these challenges and learn new solutions in a debriefing exercise following the simulation.
Even though all of the patients knew it was a simulation it was overwhelming to be a part of such a chaotic scene. While my mock injury was non-life threatening, I was quickly treated by a nurse and then taken to a psychosocial support worker who helped calm me. The care that the support worker took to ensure my well-being was comforting despite the chaos that surrounded me. The simulation left me wondering how it would feel for patients in a real-life situation, and the comfort they must take in knowing that the Red Cross is there for them.
To date, the Canadian Red Cross ERU has been deployed to Haiti during the cholera outbreak, and some delegates on the team have deployed to Sierra Leone and Mozambique during cholera outbreaks. Most recently, a surgical team was also deployed to South Sudan to provide additional capacity to a hospital treating war wounded patients.
For further information about the ERU or how to become an ERU delegate, please visit the Red Cross website at www.redcross.ca
Canadian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit training can make a difference
The Canadian Red Cross is one of the most active non-profit organizations in Canada and responds to a variety of emergency situations both in the country and abroad.
From relief for emergencies and disasters to providing support for a range of programs that help people gain vital emergency preparedness skills, the Canadian Red Cross offers an essential layer of support during times of need to individuals who have had to cope with the devastating impact of major, life-altering events.
When disasters and other incidents, including armed conflict, break out in a community, it can negatively affect the lives of the most vulnerable people in an area. One of the most important ways that the Red Cross works to provide relief after emergencies and disasters is with Emergency Response Units (ERUs).
ERUs can provide efficient and quality medical assistance in the aftermath of an emergency and support the long-term health needs of people impacted by it.
ERUs are comprised of highly trained and qualified medical professionals, social workers and midwives, as well as technicians and support staff who can ensure that the care provided to individuals is timely, standardized and effective.
The Canadian Red Cross has two health ERUs available for deployment in the event of an emergency – one is a field hospital and the other is a field clinic, or Basic Health Care Unit. These ERUs can be sent worldwide within 48 hours of a major incident and can operate for up to four months. Each ERU includes between 10 and 20 staff members, and after being set up in an area, may assist up to 300 individuals each day. http://www.redcross.ca