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Are We Prepared for the Next Disaster?

December 11, 2020
Categories: Safety, Travel Tips, Partners, COVID-19

Emergency preparedness has never been more relevant. In the last year, COVID-19 has taken the world by storm.

“This current pandemic is an alarm bell,” says Dr. Bill Brandenburg, founder of Wander Medicine Clinic and a Global Rescue Safe Travel partner. “It is telling us to learn from our mistakes, improve our preparedness and get ready for much greater challenges. While governments have a large role, preparedness actually begins with every single one of us.”

Disasters are a part of life, and more pandemics will occur. How can we be prepared next time?

Preparation Requirements

Brandenburg’s Idaho-based wellness clinic offers primary care, urgent care, travel medicine and emergency wilderness training. His courses are hands-on and meant to prepare students for real-world accidents and emergencies.

“The key to preparedness is thinking through possible emergency scenarios, planning ahead, gathering necessary supplies, training and periodically revisiting scenarios to keep them fresh in the mind,” Brandenburg said. “Simulation is an invaluable tool for preparedness and greatly underutilized. Things are always easier if we have been through them before.”

Brandenburg doesn’t just teach the skills; he uses them daily.

“In the hospital, I respond to Code Blues, which occur when a patient is dying,” Brandenburg said. “To prepare, I simulate code scenarios with my medical teams and constantly run through potential situations in my head during down time at the hospital. Every time I respond to a Code Blue, I have a plan. Any time you respond to an emergency, you should have a plan, too. This plan starts with an algorithm.”

The Initial Assessment

Whether you are the first person on scene at an automobile accident, come across an injured person on a remote mountain, or see a co-worker collapse on the job, you should be prepared. Luckily all of these scenarios, as well as every other emergency involving human casualties, can be safely and effectively addressed utilizing what is called an initial assessment.

The purpose of the initial assessment is three-fold. The first and most important goal is always the safety of the responder.

“If you are injured, incapacitated, or even killed as a result of your rescue attempt, emergency medical services now have an extra body to handle,” Brandenburg said. “If you cannot safely help, you should not help at all.”

The second goal is the early activation of additional resources. Any individual responder will usually have severely limited resources. The first move will usually be calling for help, whether that be local resources or a travel protection services membership, like Global Rescue.

The third goal of the initial assessment is to take action against immediate life threats to the person you are trying to help.

“Opening an airway, starting chest compressions and stopping a bleed can buy people time and has saved many lives,” Brandenburg said.


Brandenburg has found the best way to be prepared is to have an algorithm you understand and have practiced in real life.

“Following an algorithm takes the chaos out of a rescue and prevents important things from being missed,” he said.

Brandenburg uses the “SAD LAB CATS” acronym as his algorithm when teaching Wilderness First Aid and First Responder courses.

S: Scene safety Can I safely enter the scene? If not, wait.

A: Additional resources/Number of patients Can I handle the situation, or do I need help? How many people are injured?

D: Disease prevention/Body substance isolation Always wear medical gloves and a mask when touching patients and especially body fluids. Do not forget eye protection as well.

L: Level of Consciousness Is the patient alert and oriented? Or are they completely unresponsive?

A: Airway If the patient is unresponsive, make sure their airway is open. Tilting the head back and lifting the chin is a good way to do this. If something is in their mouth, try and remove it.

B: Breathing Is the patient breathing?

C: Circulation Do they have a pulse?

A: Arterial Bleeds Look for any active bleeding. Apply direct pressure to stop bleeding. If this does not work, try a pressure wrap or tourniquet.

T: Temperature/Environment Injured or sick individuals can become very cold or very hot rapidly. Take steps to protect such individuals from exposure.

S: Spine If concern exists for a spinal or head injury, take great caution regarding any manipulation of the neck or spine to prevent spinal cord injury.

“If you would like to take this knowledge a step further, I strongly suggest pursuing additional training,” Brandenburg said. “This information is only a starting point. Training is required in order to become an effective first responder.”

Reassess the Scene

After you have gained control of the scene and stabilized any patients using the above algorithm, resurvey the scene. Is it still safe? Has extra help arrived? Take a moment for self-care. Hydrate yourself and adjust clothing if needed.

If you are in a wilderness environment, it might take time before help arrives. Make a plan for changing conditions like rain or night fall.

Improving Outcomes

The final part of disaster response is reflection. Anyone who responds to emergencies, takes care of patients, or even creates response plans behind a desk should constantly reflect.

Ask yourself what went well, what could have been done better and what steps are needed in the future to improve outcomes. Disasters never go as planned and responses can always be improved.

“Reflection and constant improvement are the keys to success in disaster response,” Brandenburg said. “Bigger challenges and more costly disasters are surely in our future. How we prepare today will matter tremendously tomorrow.”

Travelers can be prepared for any emergency with a travel protection services membership from Global Rescue.

Global Rescue operations centers are staffed by experienced nurses, paramedics and military special operations veterans. Team members have experience with hazardous environments, peacekeeping operations, Himalayan expeditions, protection services as well as wilderness skills, crisis response training and medical evacuations.

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