Whether we like it or not, emergency situations happen everywhere, no matter which country, state, city, and/or town we find ourselves living in. Although some locations may have more emergency situations occurring than others, there are bound to be car crashes, fires, collapsed buildings, electrical grids down, and natural disasters happening everywhere at least once in a while. Of course, it isn’t your job to help those around you, but if you feel at all obliged to, there are a few steps you can take that will help to ensure your safety, and the safety of those around you.
How to Assess & Respond to an Emergency Situation in 5 Steps
1. Assess the Situation
The first thing you should do is assess the situation. Look to see who is at the emergency scene, and find out what others at the scene are doing. If anyone is in danger or hurt, you should immediately take charge of the situation. In high stress situations, people tend to panic if they or someone they know has been injured. Bystanders will often ignore the situation completely if there are many other people around, assuming that someone else must have taken care of the situation already (this is a psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect). If you feel you are able to help, take steps to lead and delegate to those around the emergency scene. When scared people, who are not used to or have never even thought of dangerous situations taking place, do not know how to react, they oftentimes just shut down. Lead them by giving them direct instructions and often they will step up and follow.
2. Get Help
The first step to establishing some sort of leadership is to shout out or signal for help. Don’t yell abstract things like, “Why are you just standing there?” Bark out direct orders to specific people – “GO GET HELP,” “YOU, CALL 911.” Keep it simple so they can follow directions easily and so that they can snap out of any shock they may be feeling: and don’t be afraid of raising your voice. Once other bystanders are working on calling the cavalry, you can focus on the tricky task of assessing what can be done until the emergency vehicles get there.
3. Assess the Environment
The initial recon should be of the area, not the people involved. Be aware of your surroundings and of your options for making it safe, both for yourself and anyone else in the vicinity. Don’t perform first aid on an injured person right next to a burning vehicle – this seems obvious, but when there’s not much time to think, it’s possible to quickly turn an incident of one casualty to a crisis of many. Be smart and consider all of the various environmental factors involved before rushing into hero-mode. Be on the lookout for the following things:
- Smoke, gases, and fumes. Locate and shut off the source and move casualties to fresh/open air. If you can’t shut off the source, then you’ll likely need to move the casualties farther. Carefully relocate them taking every possible precaution.
- Fires lead to structural instabilities and potential explosions, so if there’s fire involved and you’re trying to help out, remove casualties from the scene as quickly as possible. Of course, it need not be said, but check on the casualties prior to even thinking about tackling the fire, even if the fire may spread to take out more property – a human life is more important than any building or physical possession.
- In terms of motor accidents, turn off the ignition if at all possible, and be on the look out for pools of gasoline and smoke. Carefully carry the injured away from the wreckage if it is possible to do so, as gas leaking gas tanks + shorted wires are a sometimes lethal combination.
- With electrical accidents, separate and/or break contact somehow between the injured individual and the electrical source. If there are live wires on the ground, use a non-conductive material to move them out of the way (a broom, a stick, or a branch would be ideal if you can get your hands on any of these things).
4. Triage: Assess the Injured
At this point, you can perform basic triage and assess the injured people involved in the emergency situation. Look to the most vulnerable individuals first, see if you can help any of the ones with the most immediate medical needs. Ideally, you’d have an EDC bag with a first aid kit on you, or perhaps even a trauma kit in a bug out bag to use. If not, do the best you can with what you have: alcohol in your car or tearing up clothes to use as bandages would be great in these types of situations. Check for loss of consciousness, major bleeds, and asphyxiation, and deal accordingly, again, from the most to least injured. Your goal is never to completely heal victims, but to keep as many of them alive as possible until the physicians arrive. Never forget that.
5. Know Your Limits
Don’t take extreme risks. In periods of high pressure, it can be tempting to go beyond your knowledge or expertise to try to help, but unless you are 100% sure that you need to do something incredibly risky (like a tracheotomy) do not take the risk in doing it yourself and instead wait for professional assistance. That doesn’t mean you should watch someone asphyxiate when you think you could’ve helped, but if it’s possible to get a person breathing by any other means, take the least risky way, or at least keep the casualty alive until the medical staff arrive and are able to do the tracheotomy themselves. Try to react to issues that may arise as calmly as possible, and direct your focus on the immediate dangers – is the victim stable? If yes, move on to someone else who needs help. All you have to do is hold down the fort long enough for the EMTs to arrive. When they finally get there, keep out of their way, courteously explain to them what you’ve been doing, and assist them only if they ask for your help. Once their hands are on the casualties, your job is done and has been successful. Take a step back and let them handle the situation from then on.
More First Aid Resources
When it comes to first aid, you need two important things to help you on your quest to keep yourself and those around you safe & healthy: knowledge and (to a lesser extent) supplies. To tackle the prior, take a look through our list of the top 22 emergency & survival first aid books and grab those that you think will best help you gain the knowledge you’ll need. For the latter, take a look at our Ultimate First Aid Supplies List to see if there’s anything you should be adding to your at-home first aid supplies stockpile, or if there’s something you’ve forgotten to add to one of your first aid kits.
Do you know how to tell if a cut is infected, whether to use Advil, Tylenol, or Aspirin, and how to quickly assess and address emergency situations? Did you know you can superglue cuts and that Imodium is an excellent tool for survival?
If you have some time, you can also quickly browse through short descriptions of all the first aid articles we have on this blog, to see if there’s anything valuable you’ve yet to learn on the topics we’ve written about.
Share Your First Aid Experiences With Us
Have you come across emergency situations where your experience with first aid has helped? Do you find yourself inclined to help others if it’s within your power, or would you rather just call for help and let the experts deal with the disaster?