A Descriptive Analysis of US Prehospital Care Response to Law Enforcement Tactical Incidents

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Aberle SJ, Lohse CM, Sztajnkrycer MD 15(2). 117 - 122 (Journal Article)

Background: Law enforcement tactical incidents involve high-risk operations that exceed the capabilities of regular, uniformed police. Despite the existence of tactical teams for 50 years, little is known about the frequency or nature of emergency medical services (EMS) response to tactical events in the United States. The purpose of this study was to perform a descriptive analysis of tactical events reported to a national EMS database. Methods: Descriptive analysis of the 2012 National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS) Public Release research data set, containing EMS emergency response data from 41 states. Results: A total of 17,479,328 EMS events were reported, of which 3,953 events were coded as "Activation-Tactical or SWAT Specialty Service/Response Team." The most common level of prehospital care present on scene was basic life support (55.2%). The majority (72.3%) of tactical incident activations involved a single patient; mass casualty incidents occurred in 0.5% of events. The most common EMS response locations were homes (48.4%), streets or highways (37.0%), and public buildings (6.3%). The mean age of treated patients was 44.1 years ± 22.0 years; 3.5% of tactical incident activation patients were aged 8 years or less. Injuries were coded as firearm assault in 14.8% and as chemical exposure in 8.9% of events. Cardiac arrest occurred in 5.1% of patients, with the majority (92.2%) occurring prior to EMS arrival. The primary symptoms reported by EMS personnel were pain (37.4%), change in responsiveness (13.1%), and bleeding (8.1%). Advanced airway procedures occurred in 30 patients. No patients were documented as receiving tourniquets or needle thoracostomy. Conclusion: Approximately 11 EMS responses in support of law enforcement tactical operations occur daily in the United States. The majority occur in homes and involve a single patient. Advanced airway procedures are required in a minority of patients. Cardiac arrest is rare and occurs prior to EMS response in the majority of cases. Better understanding of the nature and location of EMS responses to tactical incidents is required to develop consistent EMS policies in support of law enforcement tactical operations.

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