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NFL Presents: Emergency Preparedness in Sports (VIDEO)

On Tuesday, January 31, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills led a discussion about the emergency action plans in place at each NFL game, how other professional sports leagues approach emergency preparedness, and how sports teams and organizations at all levels can prepare for life-threatening situations. The full webinar is available to view below.

Panelists discussed the nature of different leagues' emergency action plans and their role in ensuring that medical staff are equipped to deliver best-in-class care to players in an emergency situation. The discussion also explored tactics for staying prepared throughout the season (including pre-game meetings and rehearsing responses to potential scenarios) along with the importance of communication and collaboration across club medical, training, and coaching staffs.

In addition to Dr. Sills, the panel included:

  • Dr. Douglas Casa, CEO, Korey Stringer Institute
  • Dr. Jim Ellis, Emergency Preparedness Consultant, NFL
  • Dr. Gary Green, Medical Director, Major League Baseball
  • Dr. David Olson, Team Physician, Minnesota Vikings
  • Dr. Margot Putukian, Chief Medical Officer, Major League Soccer
  • Reggie Scott, Vice President, Sports Medicine and Performance, LA Rams

Below are some selected thoughts from the experts:

On the NFL's robust emergency planning process:

Dr. Jim Ellis: "We have a very specific meeting attended by team physicians, by all the independent medical personnel, the officials, team operations people – a lot of people are there. It's going over responsibilities prior to the game, reiterating the Emergency Action Plan, assigning if there was a cardiac arrest, who was going to lead that cardiac arrest [treatment]. It just brings organization to any emergency situation… It brings calm to what can be a very chaotic situation."

Reggie Scott: "It does take practice. Typically in the offseason, the first thing we try to do is make this as realistic as possible. We go into SoFi stadium and we want to create as real worst case scenarios as possible to prepare us...Year in and year out, we learn something new. It's such a critical component to our success and being prepared for the season."

On how other leagues approach emergency planning:

Dr. Margot Putukian: "The MLS and our Players Association, and all of our medical staffs, work collaboratively in preparing for emergencies, and in many ways, it's very similar to what the NFL has. Each club is required to submit an on-field emergency response plan for all of their venues, and they submit those to the league for review before the start of preseason. They also are required to review and practice the Emergency Action Plan prior to the season with all of their medical staff and share it with all the stakeholders, and we review the Emergency Action Plan prior to each match."

Dr. Gary Green: "We have a little bit of a different challenge. We play 162 games, and if you look at it, there's probably about 750,000 pitches in a Major League season, and we may have 0-3 times during the season that we have to activate the Emergency Action Plan. … Even though it might be .001% of the pitches, you have to be prepared 100% of the time. That's probably our biggest challenge. It's really important when you have an emergency that you have a critical response review, just like you do grand rounds with medicine. You're reviewing it not to be critical of what was done, but so that we can all learn from it."

On the critical role of athletic trainers delivering care at all levels of sport:

Dr. Douglas Casa: "We need to make sure there's a licensed medical professional who's running the show at the high school for the 600-700 athletes, all the coaches, interactions with the community, EMS providers, and the parents and the athletes. We need that central person."

Dr. David Olson: "The athletic trainers are right there taking care of everything. They're the ones that we need to have on the sidelines. They're the ones that really write these [Emergency Action Plans] for us, and we review them quickly. At an NFL game, the athletic trainers are the first ones out on the field. They're at the head if there's an issue. They're the ones doing that communication and getting people involved."

On what other levels of sports can do to prepare for emergencies and keep athletes safe:

Reggie Scott: "With the access and how critical it is to have athletic trainers as immediate response, there's about one-third of high schools that do not have access to athletic trainers. One-third. That's a big number. … There's a lot of resources you can provide, but the number one thing is the right credentialed people to be able to handle these situations. One of the strongest predictors for survival is early response."

Dr. Douglas Casa: "All the people that are on this program right now can get involved at their local level. We need the people who are on this – the influential physicians and athletic trainers, principals, athletic directors, leaders – to advocate for these changes, and you need to get involved with your sports medicine advisory committee on your state level and push for these changes."