The Importance of Implementing an Emergency Action Plan for Athletic Injuries

Athletic injuries are common, but is your school prepared for an athletic emergency?  Cuts and bruises can be expected as a result of intercollegiate and club sports, but certain types of athletic injuries and illnesses are severe enough to be considered emergencies.  It is critical that your school not only understands these injuries and illnesses, but also develops an Emergency Action Plan for when these issues arise. 

Athletic emergencies are defined as any injury or illness that threatens life or limb, including:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and concussions;

  • Spinal injuries;

  • Open fractures;

  • Uncontrollable bleeding;

  • Heat stroke;

  • Diabetic coma;

  • Sickle cell disease; and

  • Lightning strike.

Traumatic Brain Injuries in particular have been garnering a lot of attention from the NCAA, NFL, NHL and other organizations lately.  These organizations are taking a hard look at the potential lasting damage caused by concussions.  Limiting the damage of Traumatic Brain Injuries starts immediately after the injury.  Coaches, officials, and medical staff must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury immediately and work to the limit the damage right away. 

Other athletic emergencies can also result in severe and lasting consequences to athletes, such as paralysis and even death.  It is crucial for schools to establish clear guidelines regarding the types of athletic emergencies, the protocol to follow should an emergency occur, and appropriate yearly training to implement the Emergency Action Plan.   A well-defined and developed Emergency Action Plan should be simple and clear enough to be executed when needed and should not require consulting a manual in the event of a crisis.

We recommend that each school creates their own written Emergency Action Plan for any and all venues where students exercise, practice, and/or participate in a sport, including team sports, club sports, and general activities.  Us e the following steps to establish and implement an effective Emergency Action Plan:


1) Develop your plan in consultation with experts.

  • Emergency medical services providers are an excellent source of risk management advice. They should also be on-site at high-risk events.

  • Consult with your school’s legal counsel for advice about laws and regulations that address emergencies in your state or states where your students may travel for events.

  • Healthcare professionals can recommend best practices and offer assistance in the event of a crisis.  Establish those resources in advance and use them for training opportunities and updating your plan.

2) Identify key personnel and acknowledge their roles in the Emergency Action Plan.

  • Your list of key individuals will be specific to your school, and may include school administrators, coaches, certified athletic trainers, physicians, and employees who summon help or clear uninjured people from the area.

  • Key personnel should be trained on automatic external defibrillation (AED), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid, and prevention of disease transmission. Training will be an ongoing process.

3) Specify the necessary equipment.

  • The American Heart Association guidelines state that AEDs are a component of basic life support, but others items may include emergency oxygen kits, long backboards for potential spinal injuries, airway management devices, and miscellaneous first aid supplies.  You may also need small utility vehicles to transport injured students.

  • It is important to specify that personnel should only operate devices or vehicles for which they have been properly trained.

4) Establish a communication system.

  • Responders should always have access to a working telephone or mobile communication device. Test the communication systems regularly to ensure that they are operational and establish a back-up system.

  • Personnel should know emergency phone numbers, the venue’s street address, and directions to reach the location. 

5) Keep it simple, transportable, and visible.

  • The Emergency Action Plan should be visibly posted in each venue and anyone should be able to quickly and easily locate it.

  • Trained personnel can refer to the plan to guide their emergency response while uninjured spectators can use it to call for help when trained personnel are unable.

  • The recommended emergency numbers should be easy to find and individuals should be trained to know the name and address of the school or venue to aid emergency responders.

6) Practice annually.

  • By practicing your Emergency Action Plan, you can easily determine if it works properly.

  • You should practice each year and your practice sessions should include situations where limitations may exist, such as locations where an ambulance or utility vehicle cannot gain access.

Emergency Action Plans are extremely important for every college or university and can go a long way in limiting severe and lasting damage caused by athletic injuries.  If you have any questions about Emergency Action Plans or you would like to review a sample, please contact RCM&D’s Education Practice