UW Health Sports Medicine 

Red Watch Band training prepares students to respond to alcohol emergencies

Red Watch Band

May 13, 2010

MADISON - More than 30 UW-Madison students were honored April 28 for completing training to respond to “toxic drinking” emergencies as part of the national Red Watch Band campaign. Awards were presented at Great Hall, Memorial Union, in connection with the program on “Our Student Drinking Culture”, organized by Progress for Student Safety. Madison’s first Red Watch Band completed CPR training and an alcohol education unit on March 13 at Camp Randall.

“Toxic drinking” refers to life-threatening levels of alcohol consumption. The Red Watch Band campaign, launched at Stony Brook University in May 2009, aims to decrease student deaths from alcohol overdose by giving students the knowledge and skills necessary to help save a life. To date, more than 50 colleges and universities have signed on to implement the program, and approximately 500 students nationwide have received the training so far.

The UW-Madison program was organized and presented by members of two student groups: WisChoices, an organization devoted to alcohol education and safety, and Student Emergency Medical Services (SEMS). As certified instructors, SEMS members conducted the CPR training. Additional support was provided by professional staff from the University of Wisconsin Police Department (UWPD), Intercollegiate Athletics, and University Health Services (UHS).

The organizers spent months preparing the four-hour program.

“WisChoices and Red Watch Band have taught me things about alcohol I never knew,” says Julia Boms, a SEMS member and CPR instructor. “This was truly a life-changing experience.”

Across the U.S., more than 30,000 students require treatment for alcohol overdose annually, and more than 1,700 between the ages of 18 and 24 die alcohol-related deaths, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The 34 students who completed the UW-Madison program were awarded Red Watch Bands from Stony Brook University. The Red Watch Band symbolizes the “band” of students who are trained to “watch” over one another when “every second counts,” according to the program website.

Participant LeahRae Rusu found Red Watch Band “very educational.” 

“It’s a program everyone on campus should attend, or at least know is available to them,” Rusu says. 

“This is a very beneficial program for our campus,” says Dean of Students Lori Berquam. “The great majority of students are not consuming life-threatening amounts of alcohol; however, toxic drinking is still a concern that requires immediate medical attention. Red Watch Band promotes safety, an ethic of community concern, student leadership and responsibility – it’s an exciting development.” 

The Red Watch Band curriculum emphasizes the relationships among consumption, blood alcohol content and impairment, according to UHS community health specialist Sue Pastor. Participants learn to identify dangerous levels of consumption and can use their knowledge to help others avoid accidental overdose. There are a lot of myths regarding what is safe, Pastor said, and the program addresses them. Nationally, Red Watch Band participants report a high level of interest in intervening when needed and a high level of confidence in their ability to do so. Participant feedback from this training will be used to organize a larger training at the beginning of the fall semester.

WisChoices became a registered student organization in 2008, after UW-Madison was awarded an NCAA Choices grant to develop peer education on alcohol safety. Members developed their awareness of alcohol issues on campus through meeting with faculty and staff, shadowing UWPD officers on ride-alongs and at Camp Randall, visiting the Detoxification Center and meeting with the city’s Alcohol Policy Coordinator.  Following this training, they began offering educational programs to the Life Skills Academy in Intercollegiate Athletics, sororities, fraternities and residence halls.

Student EMS is dedicated to training students in emergency medicine, offering services to the University and developing programs to educate the community in emergency medicine and prevention. All members must have CPR certification, and UWPD has assisted SEMS in adding more CPR instructors to their ranks.


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