Introduction: Mass casualty decontamination is an intervention employed by first responders at the scene of an incident involving noxious contaminants. Many countries have sought to address the challenge of decontaminating large numbers of affected casualties through the provision of rapidly deployable temporary showering structures, with accompanying decontamination protocols. In this paper we review decontamination guidance for emergency responders and associated research evidence, in order to establish to what extent psychosocial aspects of casualty management have been considered within these documents. The review focuses on five psychosocial aspects of incident management: likely public behaviour; responder management style; communication strategy; privacy/ modesty concerns; and vulnerable groups.
Methods: Two structured literature reviews were carried out; one to identify decontamination guidance documents for first responders, and another to identify evidence which is relevant to the understanding of the psychosocial aspects of mass decontamination. The guidance documents and relevant research were reviewed to identify whether the guidance documents contain information relating to psychosocial issues and where it exists, that the guidance is consistent with the existing evidence-base.
Results: Psychosocial aspects of incident management receive limited attention in current decontamination guidance. In addition, our review has identified a number of gaps and inconsistencies between guidance and research evidence. For each of the five areas we identify: what is currently presented in guidance documents, to what extent this is consistent with the existing research evidence and where it diverges. We present a series of evidence-based recommendations for updating decontamination guidance to address the psychosocial aspects of mass decontamination.
Conclusions: Effective communication and respect for casualties’ needs are critical in ensuring decontamination is completed quickly and effectively. We identify a number of areas requiring further research including: identifying effective methods for communicating in an emergency; better understanding of the needs of vulnerable groups during decontamination; effective training for emergency responders on psychosocial issues, and pre-incident public education for incidents involving emergency decontamination. It is essential that the psychosocial aspects of mass decontamination are not neglected in the pursuit of solely technical solutions.