Preparing for a Potential Mass Casualty Incident

When white nationalist Richard Spencer announced he would give a talk in October 2017, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, UF Health emergency department staff carefully considered how to prepare for the potentially volatile event that could result in a mass casualty incident.

Just two months earlier, Spencer was a featured speaker at a racially charged rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed and more than a dozen others were injured when the event turned violent; a suspected white nationalism supporter plowed into pedestrians with a car.

State of Emergency: How We Prepared for Richard Spencer

5 – 6 p.m.


Room 413, 414, 415

In a session scheduled for 5 p.m. today, speaker Wendy Swan will share how she and her colleagues at the north-central Florida Level I trauma center and ED got ready to care for whatever injuries could surface during the clash between thousands of supporters and counter protesters. 

“With a white nationalist headed our way, there was obviously concern for outbreaks of violence,” Swan said. “Possible blunt trauma, the use of weapons and chemical agents weren’t unfeasible. It was very possible we would receive an influx of patients that could stress our ED.” 

Swan is expected to detail the weeks her ED spent preparing for the event. She’ll describe how the hospital collaborated with local and state agencies, readied the staff, ensured adequate provisions and expanded capacity in the ED for large numbers of patients, visitors, EMS crews and media. 

All emergency departments should not only plan for disasters but be ready for specific types of events, she said. 

“Planned MCIs differ from unplanned, weather events require a different type of preparation and, of course, biological or radiological threats require specific action plans,” she said. 

Swan said preparing for Spencer’s speech in the small college town prompted the ED staff to re-examine how to approach such a planned event. 

“I would like to share the things we did well and the opportunities for improvement,” she said about the session. “All of us can learn from the detail-driven response that elevated our capacity to handle almost anything.”

Spencer’s speech in Gainesville precipitated only minor scuffles between his supporters and the much larger group on site to protest the event, resulting in only five minor injuries, according to news reports.