By Ishaan Sandhu, Biodefense MS Student
As a student in the Biodefense MS Program, the Medical Management of Chemical and Biological Casualties (MMCBC) course appealed to me because it offered “real-world” insights into the materials covered by the Biodefense program at the Schar School of Policy and Government. The interdisciplinary nature of biodefense requires the consideration of different perspectives, especially the military’s viewpoint. I must acknowledge the simple “wow-factor” of being able to attend a specialized military learning experience that is considered the “gold standard” in chemical and biological defense training by the Government Accountability Office. This was an opportunity I simply couldn’t miss.
The MMCBC course was extremely thorough and concise in its teachings. The beauty of the course was in its organizational structure and high degree of engagement. Both the chemical and biological sections started with foundational knowledge on the principles for the medical management of casualties. From there, we learned about the various threat agents and their mechanisms of actions, symptom presentation, dose effects, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and operational implications. The predominantly military speakers always discussed the potential differences and similarities in medical management for military and civilian practitioners. While agent delivery systems and command structures primarily catered to the needs of the military, specific considerations, such as maintaining a warfighter’s operational capacity, could be applied to civilian first responders after a chemical or biological incident.
Other lectures focused on medical countermeasures (MCMs), decontamination, and triage. Currently available MCMs were covered as well as the processes of developing new ones. MCM development was something several Biodefense classes I’ve taken at the Schar School covered, but it was interesting to learn about this subject from a military perspective with additional strategic considerations. Decontamination, which was another topic I had briefly learned about previously, was covered in greater detail during this training. New variables to consider, such as site security and operational tempo, were discussed and explained. Similarly, the lectures on triage introduced new considerations such as conducting triage in the field versus at a civilian location.
One key feature of the course was the frequent callbacks or references to previous lectures. Specific classes focused on PPE and chemical defense equipment, but were referenced and contextualized when discussing specific agents. Video simulations, instructor demonstrations, and hypothetical scenarios supplemented lecture information. Samples of triage and casualty cards were given to us and used to demonstrate triage and clinical care processes. Case studies tested our ability to distinguish between different agents and apply the principles of medical management. Consistently relating information between the classes reinforced and tested our understanding of the knowledge presented.
Overall, the MMCBC course was an invaluable learning experience that reinforced my academic knowledge and offered new perspectives on biodefense strategies. The course, which catered to both military and civilian students, will serve me well no matter what career path I choose. Despite being held virtually, the course and its instructors were still successful in covering all aspects of the medical management of chemical and biological casualties. The inability to attend in-person did not impact the course’s effectiveness, although I am disappointed that I was not able to participate in hands-on demonstrations. Putting on MOPP (mission-oriented protective posture) level 4 gear and watching military working dogs in a mock CBRNE environment would have been the highlight of my semester.
Ishaan Sandhu is a graduate student in the Biodefense Master’s program at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry in 2017, he has been conducting clinical research, although he is currently transitioning towards security studies. His interests include national biodefense policy and strategy, as well as intelligence analysis.