In a disaster situation when emergency services are overwhelmed and professional medical care may be unavailable, it is vital to have a basic understanding of first aid and have necessary medical supplies on hand. Your personal health is of paramount concern, especially during an emergency. Disasters can be physically and emotionally taxing. You are much more likely to get through the incident if you are physically fit. Additionally, when you are healthy, you are in a better position to be of help to others.
"Be Ready" for medical and health emergencies with proper first aid training, first aid supplies, and personal health.
- Determine yours and your family's unique health and medical needs.
- Make a plan to meet those health and medical needs in an emergency without outside help.
- Update prescriptions, and when possible, keep a few week's supply of medications on hand.
- Become first aid certified and maintain your certification.
- Become CPR and AED certified and maintain your certifications.
- Add first aid supplies to your disaster supply kit.
- Build a supply of first aid and medical supplies at home.
- Take a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course and become actively involved.
- BONUS: Take more extensive medical training like an EMT course.
- BONUS: Become involved with your local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).
- Disaster Supply Kit: First Aid
- Red Cross: First Aid Steps
- Red Cross: Child and Baby First Aid
- Red Cross: CPR Steps
- Red Cross: Child and Baby CPR
- Red Cross: AED Steps
- Mayo Clinic: First Aid
- Ready.gov: You Are the Help Until Help Arrives
- CDC: Epilepsy Seizure First Aid
- FDA: Emergency Insulin Storage
- FDA: Safe Drug Use After a Disaster
Understand that the information given here is a very basic overview of universal and tested first aid approaches to injured victims. The information does not include or imply how to treat any injuries or medical incidents. It is suggested that you get up to date, certified training for a more in-depth understanding and knowledge of first aid, CPR, and AED techniques. Once you obtain these certifications, practice what you have learned, review the material often, and re-certify as necessary.
Accidents and medical situations are an inevitable part of life. They are difficult enough to deal with in normal times when medical help and drug stores are readily available. In a disaster situation when hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed and pharmacies quickly run out of supplies, it is vital that you can still care for the health needs of you and your family members. First aid has a lot to do with bandages and medicines, but even more important is knowing what to do in a first aid situation. Learn what to do in a medical emergency situation by taking first aid, CPR, and AED classes from the Red Cross or other reputable first aid training organization. With the proper training you can save a life, perhaps a family member's, a friend's, perhaps your own.
Emergencies happen everyday. Even if it's not a disaster affecting many people, health and medical incidents can be just as devastating to the individuals involved. If you come across a first aid emergency, be ready with the knowledge of what to do and the confidence to do it. Remember that YOU are the help until professional help arrives.
Prevention is the best medicine. Whether it is a survival situation or everyday living, avoid injury and medical incidents by practicing safety, living a healthy lifestyle, and maintaining proper hygiene. There is an element of risk in everything you do, but you can minimize risk by assessing a situation, recognizing your own limitations, and by following the safest course of action. Minimize risks in your home by doing a home hazard hunt and mitigating the hazards you find. Maintain or improve your physical health by eating a healthy diet, getting regular cardiovascular and strength training exercise, staying hydrated, and having periodic medical checkups. A healthy body is less prone to accident, injury, and disease. Additionally, by practicing proper hygiene you can further increase your resistance to disease.
It is vital to have first aid training and keep it up to date, but there are some other things that can be done as well to prepare for the possibility of a first aid or medical emergency at home or wherever you may be. Have first aid kits easily identifiable, accessible, labeled, stocked, and rotated. Keep an updated copy of first aid instructions in all emergency kits. Be sure to have first aid kits at home, in the vehicles, at work, and anywhere else you spend time. Be sure everyone knows where the kits are and how to use them.
Keep emergency and non-emergency response numbers in your phone and next to landline phones. Have the address written out next to landline phones. Also keep a written copy of your emergency numbers in your wallet, purse, vehicles, at work, and in emergency kits.
Be sure that the address of your home or business can easily be seen from the street during the day or night. Make it easy for responders to find your home quickly if needed.
Utah's Good Samaritan Law
It is important to stay within your level of first aid and medical training when giving assistance to an injured or potentially injured person. Utah's Good Samaritan Law protects you from liability as long as you are acting within reason. It states, "A person who renders emergency care at or near the scene of, or during, an emergency, gratuitously and in good faith, is not liable for any civil damages or penalties as a result of any act or omission by the person rendering the emergency care, unless the person is grossly negligent or caused the emergency."
How can you tell when there is an emergency situation?
Part of having a preparedness mindset is to always be aware of your surroundings. Being situationally aware is not just for keeping yourself safe, but also for being able to see and know when others are in need of help. Use all of your senses to increase your awareness of what is going on around you and recognize when something is out of place, feels off, or when someone is in a life threatening situation. Size up the scene and form an initial impression.
Look for things that are unusual or out of place like broken glass, toppled ladders, blood, a car off the side of the road or driving erratically. Look for unusual behaviors from people like a person lying down where they normally wouldn't be, slurred speech, a person hold their throat or chest. Train your brain to think outside of the typical normalcy bias as you observe your surroundings.
Listen for strange sounds from the victim or the surrounding environment like screams of pain, moaning, crying, or yelling. Three blasts of a whistle, three gun shots in the outdoors, three bangs on a pipe are all universal signals of distress when first aid skills could be needed. The sound of a car crash, the thud of someone or something falling, or even a sudden silence could all be indicators of an emergency situation. Ask witnesses and possible victims what happened so you know how to respond. “Is something wrong?”, “Are you OK?”, or even “What happened?” It’s better than trying to figure it alone.
Smells that are unusual can also be a sign of an emergency situation. Are there strange odors on or from the victim or in the environment? Can you smell gas, smoke, burnt flesh, or a chemical?
Feel like something is out of place? Physical sensations can alert you to something amiss, but your intuition can as well. Sometimes it just doesn't feel right. Do not dismiss those feelings just because you don't see what is causing them. Proceed with caution and be alert.
Check, Call, Care
Once you know you have an emergency situation before you, you need to act. In an emergency situation with injured victims, who is the first person you should be concerned about?
Check the Environment
Put on your personal protective equipment including non-latex gloves. Your first step is to check the environment around you for dangers, hidden or otherwise. Just like on the airplane when they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on a child or someone else, you won’t be able to help anyone if you become a victim yourself. Check for dangers that may or may not be related to the initial emergency. Is there a fire burning somewhere? Is the incident in moving traffic? Was the incident caused by toxic chemicals or gas? Is it still present? If you smelled ozone or a burning smell, there's a possibility of electric shock – is the power still on? If you heard a hissing sound, is there a gas leak? Is it hot steam? Is there a potential for explosion? Look above you, below you, and all around you. Can you fall or can anything fall on you? Is there more than one victim? Continue to assess the situation to better understand what happened and what kind of help any possible victims may need. Know your own physical and training limitations. Remember, YOU are the most important person in an emergency incident. Use your best judgement, but don't take too much time. Lives could be on the line. If the situation appears to be too dangerous or is beyond your abilities and training, make the emergency call to 911 or send someone else to make the call.
Check the Victim
After determining the best you can that the scene is safe for you to proceed, check the victim to further determine the extent of the injuries or the assistance needed. This is a quick assessment. Don’t spend a lot of time. Find out what is wrong as quickly as possible and determine if it is life threatening. This should take no more than ten seconds.
Is the victim conscious? Before giving any care, ask them for consent to perform a quick check for injuries. They must give consent before you can proceed with care. Ask them what happened and where it may hurt. Does the victim appear to be unconscious? Firmly tap them on the shoulder and ask, "Are you OK?" If there is no response, consider them unconscious and consent for you to help is implied.
If the victim is unresponsive, not breathing, has life threatening bleeding, or another life threatening issue, call 911 or ask a bystander to call 911 immediately. If the injuries do not appear to be immediately life threatening, continue on to a more thorough check. Explain to the victim what you will be doing during your check. Check the areas that the victim say hurt, but if you suspect a head, neck, or back injury, DO NOT move the victim. During your check, look for bleeding, bruising, swelling, cuts, broken bones, or anything that looks abnormal. If something hurts, make a note of it and stop your check of that area. After your check of the victim, if no life threatening issues were found, you can help them to a comfortable rest position. Continue to watch them and keep them comfortable. If there are only minor injuries, then with the victims consent, you can treat them with the supplies in your first aid kit.
If you find injuries that may be life threatening, send the call to get medical responders on the way as fast as possible. If in doubt, call 911.
A call to 911 or other emergency number can be the most important thing you do. Get medical responders on the way as fast as possible with necessary training and equipment. Have someone else call if a witness or bystander is available so you can focus on the victim. Remember to let the dispatcher hang up first – DO NOT HANG UP! They may need more information from you. Give the 911 operator the following information:
- Location of the incident. This is the MOST IMPORTANT! Say the location first because if the call is lost, responders know where to go. Give the address including street and city. Even if you don't know the exact address, you can give directions and landmarks. If you are in a large building, share where to enter and where the victim is inside.
- Nature of the emergency. This will help the dispatcher know what kind of help to send.
- Phone number of phone where call is made from so the dispatcher can call back if the connection is broken.
- What happened. These details help the dispatcher prepare the responders to properly assess and respond to the incident for their safety and the safety of the victims. It helps them know what kind of equipment, supplies, and personnel to send.
- Number injured so the dispatcher knows how much help to send.
- Help given to the injured.
It is important to know when to call 911 and to teach how and when to call to children as well. Only call when it is a life threatening situation, to report a fire, or to report a crime in progress. For everything else, use the non-emergency phone numbers.
Care for the Victim
Care for the victim after the call has been made and professional help is on the way. Treat injuries only as far as you have had proper training. Get first aid, CPR, and AED training from the Red Cross or other qualified first aid instructors. The important thing to remember is do no further harm. Part of that is remembering do NOT move the injured person unless they are in immediate danger. Continue to monitor breathing, control excessive bleeding, and treat for shock. Shock can be treated by regulating the victim's body temperature and elevating the legs above the heart - but only the head, neck, and back are uninjured and movement won’t cause additional pain or harm. Continue to give the victim specific care as you have been trained to do, and give them comfort, encouraging words, and rest until professional responders arrive.
Basic First Aid Kit
Disaster Supply Kit: First Aid