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

It Can't Happen Here...
Katrina and the California Earthquake

by Victoria Chames, EMT, EDT

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"The Bay Area has the highest concentration of earthquake faults in the world."
-Bill Lettis, earth sciences consultant.

What happened last week in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the United States was not only the worst natural disaster in the history of this country, but also the loudest wake-up call ever experienced by our comfortable over-confident society. We never dreamed something of such horror and magnitude could ever happen here - even though all the TV meteorologists told us it might, then days before the storm hit land, told us it would.

“The bad news: The chances of the Big Quake happening in the next 30 years are about 90%, and the odds are that it will be in our own back yard.”
–reporter Chris Treadway, Montclarion January 1999

Along the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, we still think "the Big One" won’t really happen, even though we’ve been told repeatedly by every geologist and every emergency response and emergency management agency that it will. The odds of a hurricane the size of Katrina were extremely small - less than a 1% probability. The odds of the Big Quake have been reported conservatively at about 70% probability, and by the specialists in the trenches say 90%.

"In the next 30 years" by the way, doesn’t mean after 30 more years (hello) it means any time now, within this 30 year time span we are already in. It could be today, or tonight while you sleep. How prepared are you? There is no question of IF it will happen; the only question is WHEN, and Katrina surely is telling us we’d best not wait till the last minute to do what we can to prepare. That will be way too late.

Here are a few things we KNOW:

1. The areas of destruction probably will be vast, and potentially spread over a much larger area than Katrina.

2. Those areas will look a lot like New Orleans did, except possibly there will be less flooding and more bleeding.

3. There will be thousands more physical and trauma injuries, such as structures collapsing on people, and buildings and cars trapping or crushing people, and torn power lines causing electrocutions and fires.

4. The Big Quake is expected to be much worse than Katrina. I won’t say more; you already know this.There won't be enough emergency, medical, or rescue help for everybody. Most of us will have to wait at leat 24 hours to 3 days, and longer in outlying or less-populated areas.

5. All city, county, and state Disaster Planning and Response agencies have been telling us since 1989, very clearly and specifically, that every citizen should expect and be prepared to manage on our own without outside help for at least 24 hours to three days immediately following a major disaster of any kind.

6. An abundance of information and detailed instructions have been published and widely distributed for free, everywhere on the West Coast and internationally on the internet. Have you read some of it? Have you done anything?

7. The State of California (and I believe Oregon and Washington as well) has mandated every county and city to provide some kind of disaster preparedness and civilian disaster response training for their citizens. Do you know where to get it?

The majority of these training programs are based on a similar framework called CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Training) or NERT (neighborhood Emergency Response Training) and the training is often provided for free locally through either Police or Fire Departments.

Common weak points in most citizen training programs are:

1. They often have inadequate funding and staffing with untrained volunteers.
2. Most of them use some type of (often sketchy) version of "Standard" First Aid.
(See the article Why Isn’t Standard First Aid Enough?").

"One thing we know about the Bay Area is that there is no escape – we all live near a fault-line."
-Bill Lettis, earth sciences consultant

The evolution of Oakland's CORE program began in 1989 with the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the sudden destruction of more than a mile of the I-589 freeway. The upper level of traffic and roadway collapsed onto the lower level, crushing and trapping the cars and drivers below. In that catastrophic event, the responsibility for commanding the massive response and rescue operations was Battalion Chief Manny Navarro. He was surprised to see, firsthand, that the greatest number of rescues were not made by the million-dollar earth-moving equipment, not the fire engines or the ambulances or the sonar devices. The greatest number of rescues were made by the people who lived near the freeway, in the neighborhood.

Why? Because in the first crucial moments, they were already there. They rushed to help, climbing up on dangerously unstable broken structures to pull people out and hand them down to others waiting to receive them below, and carry them to a safe area. With no equipment and no training, they responded as human beings and did whatever they could. Later Chief Navarro said (and I paraphrase, but this is essentially accurate) “I realized we are spending the most money for the fewest results. It was obvious – We should be training the people in the neighborhood.” That became a priority of the Oakland Fire Department. Ultimately C.E.R.T. programs developed all across America.

When a massive disaster happens and thousands of people are injured, NO city has thousands of ambulances, or thousands of empty hospital beds. Besides, virtually ALL of the hospitals in the East Bay are sitting within one mile or less from an active earthquake fault line. Even if there are roads open, and even if you could get to a hospital, it might be destroyed, or shut down and evacuated. And even if it is open, it will be swarmed like a rock concert with desperate people trying to get in. So if nobody can help us for 24 hours or more, as they realistically predict, how can we survive? We will have to help ourselves and each other.

A final thought: Let a start be made.
It’s not like it’s something really hard and difficult to do. Consider taking the one-day course, Disaster First Aid. Almost anyone can do it. You can do it too. Do it for yourself, or for your family. Your kid's school can do it for your kids. If you have any kind of neighborhood group, softball team, bridge club, poker night, bowling team, park or community center, consider starting a CERT group. You've already got the groundwork laid. If you are an EMT or Paramedic, teacher or coach, you should consider teaching Disaster First Aid in the area where you live. You or your family might be the ones they save.


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