Disaster First Aid: User and Instructor Endoresments
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Life Lines Articles - Disaster First Aid

First Aid Kits:
Buyer Beware.
by Victoria Chames, EMT, EDT

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There are thousands of websites selling First Aid Kits & Supplies. They are as numerous as flies at a garbage dump, and some are just about as useful. Scams come under all titles and categories. There are lots of people out to make a buck on the earthquake and terrorist scare with websites of dubious integrity. We found dozens that were similar, to talk about and give you a clue what to watch out for. Here’s one of them, picked at random.

We found this bold heading on a large website selling a wide array of first aid kits. This was on its "Disaster Kits" page:
"Recommended supplies of the OSHA Medical Group. This kit is good for up to 100 people."
Here are some of the supplies they clearly state (as fact) will take care of 100 people in a disaster. What YOU think?

50 regular-size bandaids
45 tiny bandaids (3/8” x 1 3/4”)
20 cotton swabs
1 eye pad
4 examination gloves
(note that for 100 people, you would need at least 200 gloves (= one pair per patient.)
30 “antiseptic towelettes" (ie. tiny 1” fold wipes)
10 sterile dressings 2x2 inches
10 sterile dressings 4x4 inches
6 iodine prep pads
(ie. tiny 1” fold wipes)
1 sterile Trauma pad 5x9” (your first aid kit for 100 injured people should have at a guess, at least 30 of those, and this ONE sterile Trauma pad 5x9 inches is the ONLY large dressing or bandage in the whole (advertised as) “275-piece kit.”

To be fair, that’s not the whole list; there were some other items such as a pair of scissors and a tweezer, one splint, and 10 tablets each of: aspirin, Tylenol, and Motrin. Oh yes, and this miraculous kit that "is good for up to 100 people" comes in a plastic box that is 10x14 inches in size, and 3 inches deep. All this is only $42.95! (No offense, but it's likely most mothers have a better first aid kit in their purse, on any normal day.)

And yet, people will buy it, even though common sense could have told them that this kit was not going to be adequate for any kind of serious trauma injury, for even ONE person, let alone 100 people. Advertising is powerful though, and words can be deceiving without being illegal. For Example: remember the headline for this first aid kit? here it is again:

"Recommended supplies of the OSHA medical group. This kit is good for up to 100 people."

What exactly is the “OSHA medical group”? If there is such a thing, they didn't say on this website, and there is no address, URL, or link to it. This is clearly intended to suggest that this first aid kit and its seller have been approved and recommended by the State or Federal OSHA we are all familiar with. I assure you, no State or Federal OSHA agencies make recommendations or endorse any particular maker or seller of any first aid products. That’s not the business they’re in.

Then at the bottom of the web page they've placed this little addendum - as if they were a representative for OSHA, stating OSHA’s mission as if it were their own:

“The mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to save lives, prevent injuries and protect the health of America's workers. To accomplish this, federal and state governments must work in partnership with the more than 100 million working men and women and their six and a half million employers who are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970."

"OSHA and its state partners have approximately 2100 inspectors, plus complaint discrimination investigators, engineers, physicians, educators, standards writers, and other technical and support personnel spread over more than 200 offices throughout the country. This staff establishes protective standards, enforces those standards, and reaches out to employers and employees through technical assistance and consultation programs. For more please visit

You can see how clever and deceptive that is. And notice that at the end of the quote they have placed a link to the actual Federal OSHA site (which anybody can do without any authority whatsoever). They are doing this to suggest that they are somehow connected to, or an agency of, the Federal Occupational Safety and Heath Administration. (They are not, of course.)

Unfortunately, websites like this are not illegal, and they are a booming business. It’s “Caveat Emptor” (Let the buyer beware) and just about anything goes, as long as they don't get caught. And the scammers are very hard to catch. Because of the very nature of the internet (it’s instantaneous) someone can take your money and if they get caught or questioned they can just disappear, and come back in a few days with a new name, a new server, and a new website.

So please shop carefully! Check out many, many website first aid supply stores first before you buy. And then when you do, expect to need to add quite a few things to your kit after that, because we have found only one or two, anywhere, that we thought might be adequate for a true disaster, for even a neighborhood's worth of hurt people. But we’re still looking. If you know of any, please let us know so we can check them out and pass them on. disasterfirstaid@earthlink.net

Our site, and the book “Disaster First Aid - What To Do When 911 Can’t Come” have always recommended that you “roll your own” first aid kit by starting with a strong, water-resistant bag with lots of pockets, and filling it with the things you will really need when the earthquake or other disaster actually comes close to you and yours. Here's a list of recommended items on the book page Realistic First Aid Kits for Disaster.

Rules of thumb when you Build Your Own First Aid Kit: First of all - Think big. Serious wounds can’t be helped much with itty-bitty band-aids. For some suggestions,use the list of supplies (above link). It’s a page from our book. This list is a pretty good starting-point, then you should customize your kit with whatever else you think you'll need. There are also pages on how to improvise home-made medical supplies, like they did in World War I.

Doing your own first aid kit helps get you in touch with your neighbors and your family. (Kids love helping with it.) But these days of course, time is always a scarce commodity, so sometimes it's well worth making a reasonable-sized investment to have someone else do this for you. Just be a wise and careful buyer.

Rules of thumb when purchasing a Pre-Packed first aid kit: Look for bigger sizes of things. In a disaster, you don't need 50 bandaids and only 10 4x4' pads - you need several hundred 4x4's in big, grabbable packages of 100 per package. You need 1-inch wide, or wider, plastic tape and cloth tape, maybe 6 or more rolls. You need roller bandages/gauze or cloth strips, lots of them. If you or someone in your family or household takes any prescribed medications on a regular basis, you should have a 3 to 5 day supply in your kit. (Check expiration dates monthly and rotate the supply.)

Also, you can save space in your kit by learning how to make splints out of materials that will already be around, like scrap cardboard, styrofoam, etc. See some of them in a High School Disaster First Aid class. Have a good flashlight or battery-powered lantern in your kit. ('light-sticks" are pretty useless). Defnitely have some aluminized mylar "space blankets" in your kit. These are real life-savers. They should cost about $3 in army surplus stores, higher in camping stores. And we think kit-bags that are set up as zippered backpacks, or framed canvas bags or luggage with wheels, are a good idea. Visibility and quick access are important too.

Don't buy anything online without reading and comparing the list of contents! One kit even by the same seller may have a fancier name and cost much more, but actually may have very little more inside. You might be better off to buy the lower-cost one and add the rest yourself.

If your kit lives in your car or home, don't stock up for a zilllion people. Most of us should probably stock up for a dozen or less, or for your immediate family, plus maybe your next-door neighbors, or your office and coworkers. If you are setting up a Medical Supplies Kit for a bigger group like your business, your neighborhood, or a community center, get some other people involved. Buying in bulk is usually much cheaper than the drugstore, and then you can divide up the supplies among several households. Get to know your neighbors; take a moment now and then. It's an old fashioned idea whose time has come around again. We all need somebody sometime.

I don't know where you are, but we live and work in Northern California, where a major quake is dangerously overdue. My hope is that "the Big One" won't come in our lifetime, but I know it's more likely that it will. Terrorism now adds another uncertainty to all our lives, all over the globe.

We can't prepare for everything; there is no air-bag big enough to cover it all. In a real-life large-scale emergency, we must all be willing to help and be helped, and that's the way we will make it through whatever comes.


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