As violence remains reality, Valley first responders
strive to solve victim-reunification challenges
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
Data shows in recent years tens of thousands of Americans have died due to injuries sustained from guns — all kinds of guns, pistols, revolvers, rifles, semi-automatic rifles & shotguns, public safety experts say.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and first reported by John Gramlich at the Pew Research Center, in 2020 alone, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States, which includes all recorded gun violence.
When a mass-casualty event occurs, the loved ones of victims are often left in emotional distress trying to find the status of who may have been hurt during a cowardly attack on innocent, unarmed Americans —- but that’s a problem Valley first responders are trying to solve.
At the Tempe Fire Department is Assistant Fire Chief Andrea Glass and she and her colleagues may have come up with a digital solution to help bring victims and loved ones together in the event of a mass-casualty event — no matter the instrument of destruction.
“What we are developing is a victim-reunification platform,” Chief Glass told the Arizona Digital Free Press Monday, Jan. 9, a day before a collaborative mass-casualty simulation was set to unfold at Scottsdale Stadium. “A great part of this, for us, is the sense of purpose because a lot of times loved ones of victims feel helpless.”
The platform: Mass Casualty Tracking & Reunification or ‘MCTRAC’ is a digital application where a user can access, through a QR code, a data entry point for general information of a victim of a shooting or any other mass-casualty event. For family members looking for loved ones they can access those data entries to track them down through the platform.
“This came from a very simple idea from myself and Assistant Fire Chief Michelle Seitz,” Chief Glass explained of the original concept, which through collaboration at Maricopa County Emergency Management and local health care providers has blossomed to what could be a working model for other regions of the Valley.
“We want to see how easy it is for someone to be handed a phone or tablet, scan the QR code enter a victim’s information as blind as possible,” she said of the purpose of the Jan. 10 exercise. “We are going to test this all out and have people on the family facing side entering their information. We want to see how easy it is to navigate the system.”
Chief Glass explains victim reunification is a problem for many first responder agencies across the country pointing out the concept for MCTRAC came out of a Maricopa County target area readiness forum.
“Typically it is something that unfortunately that has troubled and challenged first responders for the past few decades. Once we had the concept, we tapped Maricopa County Emergency Services to assist and make sure we had a viable concept. This is a collaborative effort — to be able to have something like this we have to pull together and we believe we have brought the right people on board to help support and make it happen.”
A public safety & health care collaboration
Chief Glass points out the Valley of the Sun is a special-event epicenter with Scottsdale and the surrounding area being no exception.
“We have several large-scale events that happen every year here,” she said. “That is something, the platform, we can’t just put together off the cuff. We can plan accordingly and hopefully that puts us one step ahead. This is all proof of concept.”
One distinction, Chief Glass says, is the effort to save lives are a “well-oiled machine,” but connecting victims with loved ones remains a steadfast concern this MCTRAC hopes to help solve.
“We are trying to establish SOPs [standard operating procedure] and use our knowledge gained to shift our resources and manage the entire incident,” she said. “So we can handle the entire scene as minutes matter; seconds matters and when you have certain types of trauma it really does make a difference.”
Health care providers & first responders come together
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10, a mass-casualty event was simulated to have occurred in central Phoenix with a total of 150 victims both deceased and injured en route to Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, which served as a make-shift hospital bay.
Valley fire department personnel and hospital staff from HonorHealth — who served as organizer of the event — along with Abrazo and Dignity Health descended in downtown Scottsdale to simulate critical response efforts specific to victim reunification.
“Actually, we are surging several of our hospitals and other hospitals,” said John Bartz, HonorHealth director of emergency management. “Our goal from the hospital side is to receive notification from the alarm room. We have to have the ability to decompress our emergency rooms and accommodate the surge in patients. We are basically trying to evaluate the coordination with EMS, first responders and community response as well as dealing with decedents.”
From a practical standpoint, Mr. Bartz points out, local hospitals must be prepared for mass-casualty events along with a surge, in some cases, of dozens of victims.
“We will tax and stress our hospital systems,” he said of one facet of the Jan. 10 exercise. “This is how we identify gaps. When in emergency situations we revert back to our last level of training. Calm is contagious, if we are calm as leaders and help to calm things down, it is us working together.”