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Emergency Assistance Planning


Emergency Assistance Planning
Acting with assurance means you've made prior planning and preparation before the emergency happens

By Dan Orr
DAN Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Years ago, I was diving a river near a small community when I heard a diver in the water yell for assistance. The diver, in obvious distress, was at the surface spitting up dark red, clotted blood.

We immediately put someone in the water to provide assistance as we prepared to remove the diver from the swiftly moving river water.

The boardwalk was at least 6' to 8' (1.8m to 2.4m) above water level. As part of our preparation for such a emergency, we had carried with us surplus aluminum aircraft ladders -- they were perfect for rapidly carrying to an extrication point, hooking onto the existing railing and lowering down into the water. Once this was done, removing the diver from the water was not difficult.

In the meantime, we called the local emergency medical services (EMS), but the volunteer rescue squad was busy with another local catastrophe. We prepared to remove the injured diver ourselves. (Note: when available, it is always better to remove any injured person using the local EMS).

The diver was anxious, to say the least, but otherwise conscious and having no difficulty breathing. We performed all appropriate first aid, including the use of oxygen, and we moved the diver to the local medical facility without delay.

We had called the facility as we were preparing the injured diver for transport, so they were ready when we arrived. After a complete examination, it was determined that the diver had a bleeding ulcer that he was not aware of.

This true scenario reinforces the point that not all accidents at dive sites are dive accidents.  Recreational scuba diving, like any other outdoor leisure activity, is not without the risk of normal accidents.  Anytime you are involved in lifting or carrying heavy equipment, climbing ladders, rocks and/or coral there is always the possibility of injury.  Just remember the last time you tried to get yourself and your gear onto or off a bobbing boat while it was tied to the dock --it's like to trying to walk through the rotating barrel at the fun house.

As long as we are careful, the risk of diving and non-diving injury is minimal, but it helps to be prepared.  As we all know, even the best-made plans can be unmade by the most dreaded of travel buddies, "Murphy." According to his "law," if something is likely to go wrong, it probably already has, or it soon will.  In this case, you must be prepared to act, not just react, and to do so with prior planning and preparation for unforeseen events.  Early recognition and planned and practiced action is critical to the welfare and safety of an injured person.  It is essential that you be prepared to manage an accident in the conditions where you are actually diving.  In the example above, had we not been prepared to remove the injured diver at the boardwalk, the nearest easy exit point was more than a mile downstream.  As part of our preparation for those circumstances, we had already practiced removing a simulated injured diver from those or other rather difficult, but realistic, conditions.

Unfortunately, here at DAN we have received reports of injured divers at specific sites -- only to discover that they cannot be assisted easily because no one at that site is prepared.  The result can be a considerable delay in assistance and treatment, possibly transforming a serious but treatable injury into a far graver injury, or even into permanent disability.

Safe diving includes not only being prepared but acting with knowledge, experience and preparation rather than just reacting.

Here are some other ways to be prepared for an emergency while diving:

Find out beforehand who in your dive group are DAN members. Remember that all DAN members have travel assistance and other emergency benefits.  Encourage nonmembers to sign up for DAN membership well in advance of your trip.

Have at least one person always on the surface to assist if necessary.

Have the phone number of the local emergency medical services (EMS) readily accessible.  On some Caribbean islands, there are local REACT groups to help in emergencies.  If you plan to do any diving outside of what's organized at your hotel, it would be worth your while to have this information available.

Keep on hand the name, address and phone number of the local medical facility.  Part of our normal procedure when arriving at a dive site was to drive the route to the local medical facility beforehand, just in case we had to get there on our own.  We had even prepared local maps to provide directions.

Once at the site, identify communications alternatives.  If it is a local curbside phone, make a call to make sure the phone is working.  It is wise to have coins available or a calling card (such as the DAN calling card) so there is no delay.

Make sure your cellular phone works in any remote area where you will be diving.  Cell phones are a great alternative since they provide constant communications both at the site and en route.

Have and consult the DAN Dive & Travel Medical Guide not only to get the DAN Diving Emergency Hotline and DAN TravelAssist numbers but also to provide additional information to the EMS if they should want it.

Look for a DAN TagTM on buoyancy compensation devices.  If the injured person is unconscious, look for a DAN TagTM to get the DAN emergency phone number and personal medical information about the injured person.

Keep on hand any additional information that might be helpful in managing any type of accident.

--Based on the article Emergency Assistance Planning by Dan Orr in Alert Diver, the member magazine of Divers Alert Network.


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