The last thing you want during or immediately following a disaster or other crisis is an injury. It’s going to be challenging enough dealing with an emergency situation when you’re at full strength.
An injury – depending on how debilitating it is – could really set you back. It might even make it impossible for you to do what you need to do to survive.
Being able to avoid an injury in this scenario will go a long way to helping you cope with it. And maybe assist others who need help as well.
But sometimes injuries are unavoidable. Seek medical help for anything serious. If it’s not available, remember that speed counts. The sooner you treat your own or someone’s else’s injury, the better off the victim will be.
As we’ve seen repeatedly, extreme weather causes a vast majority of crisis situations. Sometimes it’s the weather itself that results in injuries. Other times it’s the destruction weather produces that ends up hurting people.
Severe heat can cause heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when the body temperature rises quickly and the ability to perspire to cool off the body fails.
Heat cramps result in spasms of large muscle groups. Less severe but painful are heat rash (including inflammation) and heat edema (swelling).
Symptoms to watch for include a high body temperature and flushed skin. As well as a racing heartbeat, headache, nausea and vomiting.
If you’re trying to help someone with hyperthermia, do whatever you can to cool them down. Such as with ice packs, a cold shower or bath, or wet cloths on their head and neck.
Perhaps even more common than heat-related problems are physical issues caused by severe cold. With hypothermia, the body loses heat faster than it can generate it.
With the body unable to perform its normal functions, people experiencing hypothermia will often have a weak pulse, confusion, shivering and slurred speech.
Getting someone with hypothermia into a warm shelter is job one. That’s not always possible, but try to at least shield them from the wind. Cover them with blankets, but remove wet clothing first if you can. A space blanket comes in handy here.
Watch for frostbite symptoms, which at first involve the skin turning white or yellow. Keep a close watch on their breathing. Begin CPR if it appears to have stopped.
As mentioned, extreme weather can also damage structures that people are either in or near. Many injuries occur from objects falling on top of them indoors or blowing into them outside.
Depending on what kind of materials they are hit with, this can result in head trauma, broken bones and lacerations. Stop bleeding by applying pressure to a wound.
If you have training and a first-aid kit, treat their injuries the best you can. Try to keep them warm and hydrated.
If you think they might be going into shock, try to elevate their legs. Monitor their breathing and pulse rate.
It’s also important to watch for signs of infection. Especially if they’ve been hit by flying debris including wood and glass.
Wash out wounds gently but thoroughly with soap and clean water. Cover the area with a bandage.
Many people experience minor to moderate injuries in the aftermath of a disaster. These are often ankle sprains due to moving around on littered and uneven terrain.
Ice the injury as soon as possible. But don’t apply ice or an ice pack directly onto the skin. On again, off again treatments are best for keeping the swelling down.
Earlier I mentioned head trauma. This can sometimes result in a concussion. These are difficult to diagnose, other than through testing. And even that sometimes requires a previous baseline test.
Watch for headache, dizziness, blurred vision and confusion. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do for someone with a concussion.
Just keep them as still and quiet as possible until medical personnel are able to examine the victim.
In a vast majority of cases, the person will fully recover from a concussion. But it can take some time, depending on the severity.
Burns and respiratory problems
Wildfires can cause a whole different set of injuries and other health concerns. The most minor of which are skin, nose and throat irritation.
Burns can occur from the fire itself, as well as from flying debris that has been set on fire. Depending on where the fire happens, electrical hazards may also exist.
If possible, run cool water on the burned area before covering it with a moist, cool bandage. Elevate the burned area.
There are also a number of more serious respiratory issues that can result from breathing in smoke.
A number of different disasters can cause water contamination problems. Especially those involving rain, including hurricanes and tornadoes.
People can get waterborne infections from flooding, especially if the water enters an open wound. And, of course, drinking water that’s been compromised can lead to illness.
Bandage wounds as well as possible to try to avoid this. And have a way to purify potentially contaminated water before it’s consumed or used for bathing, cleaning, etc.
Following a major storm, there is likely to be standing water near your home. Get rid of it if possible before mosquitoes start breeding in it.
Here are a few miscellaneous ways to try to avoid disaster-related problems:
Tornado – If you’re indoors, get to a basement, storm cellar or the lowest level of a building. Stay away from windows, doors, corners of buildings and outside walls.
Hurricane – Board up windows with plywood or install storm shutters. Secure your roof and siding to your house frame with straps. Reinforce garage doors.
Flooding – If you’re driving and you see standing water ahead, stop. Six inches of water is enough to stall out most cars. It may be deeper than it appears.
House fire – Practice an evacuation plan with your family, both by sight and feel. It’s possible the smoke will be too thick for you to see your way around.
Earthquake – Fasten shelves securely to walls and put breakables in cabinets that latch shut. Place heavier objects on lower shelves, and take rollers off heavy furniture.
Knowledge and supplies
Just as we never know when a crisis will occur, we also don’t know which injuries may happen as a result.
I strongly recommend two things: knowledge and supplies. Take a first-aid course including CPR training. And either build or purchase a comprehensive first-aid kit.
These things could be lifesavers for you or someone near and dear to you. Or even a perfect stranger.
Anything you can do for injuries and other health issues prior to professional medical help arriving could make a big difference.