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Athletics Emergency Action Plans

Joe Vossen, JD
October 2020
Steps to establish an effective EAP at your institution

An emergency action plan (EAP) is your K-12 school, college, or university’s road map for responding to an athletic emergency. The lack of an EAP, or the failure to practice an existing plan, can aggravate sports injuries and lead to legal claims.

An athletic emergency is usually one that endangers the life or limb of students, including:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal injury
  • Heat stroke
  • Diabetic coma
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Lightning strike
  • Open fracture (bone through skin)
  • Uncontrollable bleeding

Create a written EAP for any venue where students exercise, not just facilities that host interscholastic or intercollegiate sporting events. Do this to establish and implement an effective EAP:

  • Consult with experts when developing the plan. Emergency medical services providers are an excellent source of risk management advice. They also should attend high-risk events. A local attorney can advise your institution on laws or regulations addressing emergencies. Health care professionals know best practices and are indispensable in an emergency.
  • Identify key personnel. The first responders to an emergency may include officials, coaches, certified athletic trainers, physicians, administrators, and employees who summon help or clear uninjured people from the area. Key personnel should be trained in the use of automated external defibrillators (AED), cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid, and prevention of disease transmission.
  • Specify needed equipment. American Heart Association guidelines contend AEDs are a component of basic life support. Other components include emergency oxygen kits, long backboards for potential spinal injuries, airway management devices, and first aid supplies. Your institution may use small utility vehicles to transport injured students. Personnel only should operate devices for which they have been trained.
  • Establish a communication system. Responders always should have access to a working telephone or mobile communication device. Check communications systems regularly to ensure they are operational. Establish a backup system. Personnel should know emergency phone numbers, the venue’s address, and directions for getting there.
  • Post the EAP in a visible place at each venue. Anyone should be able to quickly and easily locate the posted EAP. Trained personnel can refer to it to guide their emergency response; uninjured spectators can use it to identify whom to call when trained personnel are not present during an emergency. The posted EAP should contain, at a minimum, recommended emergency numbers, addresses, and venue directions.
  • Practice the EAP for each venue at least annually. It is impossible to know whether an EAP works if it has not been rehearsed. For example, because one college had never practiced its EAP, trained personnel were unaware that neither ambulances nor utility vehicles could access the baseball field. An injured player was carried outside the field to a waiting ambulance, but time was wasted in the confusion.
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