Lethal Ignorance

In the final special for the month of July, I’m going to kick off with a question.

It’s not something political, like “do you know your own Senator’s name.” (Although polls show most don’t.)

It’s not something statistical, like are you aware gun homicides have dropped since 1993.” (although again, most don’t.)

It’s very simple.
Can you swim?

Yes, “can you swim” is a question surveys show over half of Americans can’t answer affirmatively.

Consider the implications of being unable to know how to swim well enough to not drown…..and therefore not well enough to save someone else.

Additionally, a 2013 study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that just over half of Americans are aware of alert and warning systems (Emergency Broadcast Systems, tornado sirens, etc.) and fewer still are aware of what their local hazards are. That same study found that just over one-third of Americans have attended CPR training, fewer still First Aid training.

In other words, Americans are woefully unprepared for emergencies on a micro scale like when someone suffers a stroke in front of them, let alone natural disasters.

We talk about how dangerous this world is, and do nothing to attempt to be ready for the dangers we speak of.

This week, we look at all the angles of survival. We look at First Aid, CPR, AEDs, and how all three work together. We look at surviving disasters and environmental hazards ranging from extreme cold and avalanches, to extreme heat and the dangers of heat stroke. We will also look at ways to stay ahead of storms, not all of which need cell towers (or expensive phones for that matter). We will also look at Good Samaritan laws, including how you can lose protection under those laws in an instant.

1.) Disclaimer: It should go without saying that one Midnight Run neither constitutes medical advice nor First Aid or CPR training. This week is about pointing this audience in the direction of certified trainers, and how they can arm themselves with the information they need and the tools to help in emergencies. I cannot and will not pretend to know your skill level, medical experience, or frankly your ability to perform any of the actions we will discuss tonight.

I’m not a medical professional. In all cases of severe injury, 911 is your first best friend. The second is a medical professional.

2.) First Aid. First aid is defined as administering medical care to an injured/choking/unresponsive person before advanced medical care can arrive. It is the first line of defense because nobody can respond to an emergency faster than the people already there. The fastest response to a fire will come from the person closest to the fire extinguisher. Likewise, the fastest response to a cut will be the person closest to the dressing/bandages.

There are two major organizations that teach First Aid nationwide to just about everyone, the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. Both classes allow a person to be certified in First Aid, CPR, and the use of AEDs.

2a.) You’re the Patient. As an aside, if, God forbid, you should ever be the one in need of assistance, there is a relatively recent development in smartphones you should take advantage of. The most recent version of iOS allows for the user to input vital information about himself, such as emergency contacts, blood type, and any allergies to medicine you have through the Health app. The Health app also has a feature that places the Medical ID you create on the lock screen, making it easily accessible for anyone looking to render aid.

If you have an iPhone, use this feature.

3.) CPR CPR is a well-known (in theory) method of essentially taking over for a person’s heart when the organ has either become weak or an artery blocked. It is designed to keep blood flowing for long enough for EMTs to arrive and take over. Because CPR involves forcefully compressing the person’s chest, many are concerned about liability for doing so should the person survive whatever it is that caused CPR to be used in the first place.

4.) Good Samaritan laws. This is where the so-called “Good Samaritan Laws” kick in. All 50 states have one, and although they may vary from state-to-state, the main principle is that a person acting in good faith to administer aid to someone cannot be held liable for whatever damage he/she does in the process. For example, if in the course of CPR you manage to break a rib, you cannot be held liable. The reasoning behind this is that something like a cracked rib is an unfortunate, but incalculably better outcome than if the CPR had not been done and the person died right then and there.

But one area where it gets tricky is as follows. In many states (Georgia, for instance), the protection of the Good Samaritan Law is predicated on not accepting compensation of any kind. The rationale behind that should be obvious; you did what you did to save someone’s life, not because there might be a reward on the other end.

5.) AEDs. In the 1990s, the use of AEDs or Automatic External Defibrillators was approved by the FDA for use by civilians. In 2004, the FDA approved AEDs to be sold in stores. AEDs are portable, easy-to-use defibrilators that serve to either jump-start a person’s heart or try to reset it to a normal rhythm. They are able to analyze the person’s heart rate, and many of them come with instructions and voice prompts to guide someone through the process of using the AED. (Although, yes, training is the best way to learn how to do so.)

Automatic External Defibrillators are used in concert with CPR, and AEDs prompt the user when to begin CPR and when to allow the system to determine if another shock is warranted.

Put bluntly, AEDs are tools used to make it more likely for a person to survive. Many businesses now have at least one such device.

6.) Drowning. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let me briefly jump back to the intro. As we discussed, many Americans quite literally cannot swim to save their lives. The logical extension of this is that they can’t save anybody else’s lives either.

So how big a problem is this, really?
According to the CDC, around 3,536 people died from unintentional drowning annually between 2005-2014.

It doesn’t take too much to figure out how a lot of those can very easily be prevented. Not by banning something or other, but by simply learning a handful of skills.

7.) Weather. Up to this point, just about everything we have discussed has been small-scale stuff. Choking, drowning, etc. all happen on an individual level.

Let us wrap by discussing hazards on a much larger scale. Namely, weather and natural disasters.

While it is well beyond the scope of this Run to clearly define all natural hazards, there are a few I would like to highlight, and how to get around them. Severe weather, and avalanches.

The former is best handled through one of the foremost authorities on preparing for severe weather; which is of course the National Weather Service.  The NWS has been (at least trying) to get the word out about how to prepare for severe weather for decades now, and chief among those efforts is the widely-available but little-known “voice of the National Weather Service” known as NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards. NOAA Weather Radio is a network of local broadcasts from NWS Weather Forecast Offices around the country on seven frequencies specifically reserved for the service. There are radios specially designed to both receive the broadcasts, and play an alert tone when one is released for an area (this is particularly useful at night in tornado-prone areas).

The network covers virtually all of the United States, and radios are available for prices ranging from $25 to $100. There’s really no excuse not to have one, especially if you are in an area prone to severe weather.

Outside of the alerts that NOAA Weather Radio provides, there are very powerful apps you can use to stay ahead of storms. My personal favorite on iOS an Android is RadarScope. RadarScope basically allows you to look at a ton of information from the National Weather Service’s NEXRAD radar network. It does not provide a national mosaic, but instead focuses on providing raw data from the radar. Watches and warnings are also shown.

8.) Avalanches. There is one more event I want to focus on briefly; And that is the avalanche. Avalanches are when a large amount of snow, ice and rocks barrel down a mountain. Interestingly, there is a great series on avalanche survival from apparel manufacturer The North Face in association with the American Avalanche Association.

9.) Bottom line. Americans are woefully under-prepared for emergencies on a micro level, let alone disasters on a city- or state-wide level. This problem can be easily fixed through education and use of abundantly available technology. Self-reliance has become a strangely little-known trait in America, despite the fact that it is one of the traits that defined our country not too long ago.

Self-reliance is not simply being able to defend yourself against criminals. It is being able to assist yourself and others in all kinds of emergencies. Being able to both defend yourself against criminal threats and to assist yourself in an emergency is the very definition of self-reliance. Additionally, one who is able to swim well enough to save his own life can be easily trained to swim to save others.

The foundation that comes from that is borderline unshakable. When a community is able to rely on each other for assistance, and augments the abilities of emergency personnel instead of relying on them, virtually everyone benefits.

And it is not impossible. The way the community of West, Texas banded together after the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion is basically a legend that surprised everybody but the people who lived there.

The point is this. We are our own first response team. The people who are at a scene where an emergency takes place are the best first responders because they would have been there regardless. (You have to describe where you are to a 911 dispatcher. You don’t have to do that to yourself.) The training needed to administer what could be lifesaving care to someone is easily accessible, and the tools needed to stay ahead of severe weather are both inexpensive and extremely easy-to-use.

Put bluntly, get trained, get a radio, and get ready for whatever comes your way.

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay alive.

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