Disasters on campus: A cross-sectional survey of college EMS systems’ preparedness to respond to mass casualty incidents


  • Matthew A. Tovar, BS
  • Catherine H. Zwemer, BS
  • Christopher M. Wend, BS
  • Andrew C. Meltzer, MD
  • Babak Sarani, MD
  • James P. Phillips, MD




collegiate emergency medical services, mass casualty incidents, emergency preparedness


Objective: The objective of this study was to assess the training and readiness levels of Collegiate Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers to respond to mass casualty incidents (MCIs).

Methods: An anonymous cross-sectional survey of Collegiate EMS providers was performed.

Participants: Participants were US-based EMS providers affiliated with the National Collegiate

Emergency Medical Services Foundation.

Outcome measures: The main outcome measures were levels of EMS experience and MCI training, subjective readiness levels for responding to various MCI scenarios, and analyzing the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on MCI response capabilities.

Results: Respondents had a median age of 21 years (interquartile range IQR 20, 22), with 86 percent (n = 96/112) being trained to the Emergency Medical Technician-Basic level. Providers reported participating in an average of 1.6 MCI trainings over the last four years (IQR, 1.0, 2.2). Subjective MCI response readiness levels were highest with active assailant attacks followed by large event evacuations, natural disasters, hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidents, targeted automobile ramming attacks, explosions, and finally bioweapons release. Disparate to this, only 18 percent of participants reported training in the fundamentals of tactical and disaster medicine. With respect to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on MCI readiness, 27 percent of respondents reported being less prepared, and there was a statistically significant decrease in subjective readiness to respond to HAZMAT incidents.

Conclusion: Given low rates of MCI training but high rates of self-assessed MCI preparedness, respondents may overestimate their readiness to adequately respond to the complexity of a real-world MCI. More objective assessment measures are needed to evaluate provider preparedness.

Author Biographies

Matthew A. Tovar, BS

Medical Student, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Catherine H. Zwemer, BS

Medical Student, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Christopher M. Wend, BS

Medical Student, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Andrew C. Meltzer, MD

Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Babak Sarani, MD

Professor of Surgery, Chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, Center for Trauma and Critical Care, George Washington University Hospital, Washington, DC

James P. Phillips, MD

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Chief of Disaster and Operational Medicine Section, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC


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How to Cite

Tovar, BS, M. A., C. H. Zwemer, BS, C. M. Wend, BS, A. C. Meltzer, MD, B. Sarani, MD, and J. P. Phillips, MD. “Disasters on Campus: A Cross-Sectional Survey of College EMS systems’ Preparedness to Respond to Mass Casualty Incidents”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 16, no. 4, Dec. 2021, pp. 271-95, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2021.0411.