Plan ahead for medical emergencies

By Sarah B. Hood

It’s something every sport event organizer needs but never wants to use: Medical emergency planning may seem like an afterthought, but “If you ever need it, you really need it,” says Lisa Paul, director of community programs with St. John Ambulance.

Medical personnel track-side during the
2023 Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup in Milton, Ont.
Photo: Pierre-Luc Silva / Cycling Canada

What will you need?

The levels of staffing and resources will vary according to factors such as the event size, numbers and demographics of competitors and spectators, and the level of risk associated with the sport discipline. Also important is the location; in a major urban centre, a high level of emergency medical response is normally available within minutes, reducing on-site needs.

St. John Ambulance asks event organizers for essential information to determine the kind of medical or first-aid services needed. “We will help you plan by gathering the details and recommending the type and quantity of medical first responders or first aiders for your event,” says Paul.

Are there specific requirements?

“At the national and international levels, there are requirements to have a certain minimum standard of medical personnel on-site,” says Josh Peacock, director of marketing and events with Cycling Canada.

Sanctioning organizations have their own requirements, typically including an emergency response plan. Municipalities impose certain standards when they issue permits. Venues like ski hills and large stadiums also have rules. “They may require you to use their own people,” Peacock notes.

What’s in your plan?

An emergency response plan assigns specific responsibilities in case of an incident, establishing clear communication.

The not-for-profit SportMedBC, made up of sport medical and paramedical practitioners in British Columbia, recommends that the plan should delegate a “charge person” to make decisions, a “call person” to call for medical assistance and someone to manage crowd control. Key staff need an action plan: The order of steps to take according to the level of the situation.

Information like an emergency-responder phone list and personal records for athletes should be easy to find. Depending on the venue, it may be useful to map out physical features such as ambulance access routes and the locations of medical equipment like defibrillators and first-aid stations.

Finding medical support services

Apart from St. John Ambulance—a highly regarded non-profit whose volunteer accreditation is accepted in all provinces and territories—many for-profit providers are available across Canada.

Some of these use off-duty paramedics and some jurisdictions may offer their local emergency medical responders for hire to event organizers. “Although the cost is sometimes quite high, that’s a way to get reputable service providers on-site,” says Paul.

Sport bodies often forge a relationship with a trustworthy provider. For example, Cycling Canada members in Ontario use a firm called Odyssey Medical.

Whatever the first choice, Peacock warns organizers to “have another phone number you can call” in case of surprises, like a recent cycling race whose medical providers were suddenly called away to assist at a wildfire site. (Their backup was a crew that usually works in the film industry.)

“These days, disasters happen that you never anticipate,” Peacock says. “Always have a Plan B.”

Published September 2023

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