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How SoCal trauma centers prepare for mass casualties

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It’s been a week since a shooter opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more.

Trauma centers were caught off guard and overwhelmed, treating injuries from the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

In an era when worst-case-scenarios keep worsening, how can hospitals prepare?

Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Mike Williams, president of the Abaris Group. He specializes in hospital trauma centers and systems. 

1. Trauma centers learn from the military 

The trauma center model is inspired largely by combat medicine. But how do medical professionals treat injuries from rapid fire weapons that are more akin to battlefield wounds than the gunshot wounds they frequently treat? According the Williams, "The surgeons... are prepared for those type of injuries. They go to seminars and frequently get that kind of exposure in their teaching program."

A lot about trauma medicine has been learned in recent years from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And local hospitals continue to benefit from military resources. Williams explained how the former ER at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center in Willowbrook has a military connection. "The military used to send people in to do rounds and a sort of mini-internship because of their large number of high velocity injuries," he said.

2. Practice runs are critical 

As hard as it can be for medical professionals to anticipate a worst-case scenario, Williams says the industry tries to prepare through walking through what a disaster situation would be like. "They train typically through rehearsals and mock simulations of large events or a large number of casualties. In fact, there was a mini-rehearsal the day before in Las Vegas by practitioners of a similar event, perhaps not anticipating the scope and the size of the event."

3. Prioritizing care is an important piece of the puzzle 

As medical professionals and agencies process the events on October 1, there will be a lot of reflecting on how care can be improved in the event of future mass casualties. It's too early to know definitively what changes hospitals will make but Williams points out, it's not just about the medicine, it's how you strategize trauma care. "It's not so much treating the patients, it's getting the patients lined up, and then triaging the patients or sorting them according to their acute needs."

To hear the full interview with Mike Williams, click on the media player above.