Lessons in the News: Damar Hamlin and Emergency Action Plans

“I don’t like how he went down.”
“All-call. All-call.”
“We need an airway doctor, everybody. Bring the cot with the medics.”

These are from the audio recording released following NFL player Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest. The Bills’ medical staff not only immediately recognized that something was seriously wrong, but they effectively communicated and took action in less than 10 seconds of Hamlin’s collapse.

This is the exact response that is required to completely change the outcome of an incident. Your staff have the power to change an outcome and save a life.

What We Know

A serious medical event like Hamlin’s is very rare. Even so, the team had an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place that had been meticulously practiced and swiftly executed. That meant:

  • Every staff member knew exactly what to do. Although cardiac arrest is a rare and unexpected event, every staff member knew their exact role in that moment. 
  • The Emergency Action Plan was well-communicated and practiced. Medical staff were on the field within 10 seconds of Hamlin’s collapse, and they began CPR within 1 minute. They used specific and urgent language to initiate their response, and knew every aspect of the EAP—how to cut the clothing, properly use the AED, when to give CPR, etc. 
  • All Equipment was readily available. The equipment needed—including such a seemingly basic item like a pair of scissors—was available and easily accessible. These scissors drastically sped up the process by cutting through all of his clothing layers.

The Lesson

According to Dr. Timothy Pritts, Chief of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the swift response was likely responsible not just for saving Hamlin’s life, but his neurological function, too. And while society rightly celebrated the first responders in this particular incident, it’s important to note that they also expect exactly this behavior from all organizations—regardless of their size, budget, or the work they do. Here’s what we all need to take away from this incident:

Practice, practice, practice. It is critical for every staff member at your organization to know their role in your EAP. And even more important to realistically practice that EAP in order to respond as quickly and effectively as Hamlin’s medical team did.

Today, as we think about this incident, ask yourself:

  • If someone collapses in your facility, how quickly and confidently will your staff respond? 
  • Do all staff know how to access lifesaving equipment, such as AED and Oxygen, and how to initiate the EAP?
  • Does your EAP practice include emergency responders, real people as victims, and plausible scenarios?

Our Call to You

The case of Damar Hamlin shows us that positive outcomes can occur when everybody is empowered to excel. It is a model that all of us can follow, and it is a model that all of us should aspire to. We want to take this moment to recognize the outcome of this story, and to also express our gratitude for what you do every day to keep your communities safe.