Search and rescue response to a large-scale rockfall disaster
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OBJECTIVE: To describe the prehospital management and safety of search and rescue (SAR) teams involved in a large-scale rockfall disaster and monitor the acute and chronic health effects on personnel with severe dolomitic dust exposure. METHODS: SAR personnel underwent on-site medical screening and lung function testing 3 months and 3 years after the event. RESULTS: The emergency dispatch center was responsible for central coordination of resources. One hundred fifty SAR members from multidisciplinary air- and ground-based teams as well as geotechnical experts were dispatched to a provisionary operation center. Acute exposure to dolomite dust with detectable silicon and magnesium concentrations was not associated with (sub)acute or chronic sequelae or a clinically significant impairment in lung function in exposed personnel. CONCLUSIONS: The risk for personnel involved in mountain SAR operations is rarely reported and not easily investigated or quantified. This case exemplifies the importance of a multiskilled team and additional considerations for prehospital management during natural hazard events. Safety plans should include compulsory protective measures and medical monitoring of personnel.