NFL’s emergency action plan: How it may have saved Damar Hamlin’s life

Time stood still for NFL fans when medics performed CPR on Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday night.

Hamlin, who collapsed to the ground during the the Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game at Paycor Stadium, had his heartbeat restored on the field, and an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was required. The 24-year-old was transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

On Tuesday, the Bills confirmed Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and said he remains sedated at the hospital, where he is in critical condition.

The coordinated medical response was part of the NFL’s emergency action plan, which each team is required to have. Here’s what to know about the protocol.

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What is the NFL’s emergency action plan?

Each club is required to create an emergency action plan, which is enacted if a player undergoes severe trauma. The plan is reviewed by the NFL and NFL Players Association, and must be approved by a third-party expert before the start of the season, according to the league. Each team is also required to practice its emergency action plan prior to the season.

As part of the plan, teams must identify a nearby level one trauma center, which, for the Bengals, is the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Clubs are also required to have an ambulance and airway management physician onsite during game days.

The emergency action plan is discussed one hour before kickoff

Officiating crews, club medical staff and game day medical personnel meet one hour before every NFL game to run through logistics and emergency action plan procedures. According to the NFL Player Health and Safety website, medical personnel, like airway management physicians and neurotrauma consultants, are introduced to one another during this time. Officials also verify that ambulances, defibrillators and other equipment are onsite.

The meeting prepares medical staff for a coordinated response, should one be necessary.

What is a level one trauma center?

According to the American Trauma Society, a trauma center’s level refers to its available resources and number of patients admitted annually. A level one center must meet several requirements, including offering care at all stages of an injury, from prevention to rehabilitation.

How often is the emergency action plan reviewed?

The NFL runs through its emergency action plan with all 32 clubs weekly, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said. The response for medical situations, like Hamlin’s collapse, are rehearsed at NFL stadiums annually.

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