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Disaster Management

Search and Rescue

The first thing before taking part in a “Search and Rescue” operation is to make sure that you don’t put yourself also at risk – by unnecessarily exposing yourself to a hazard.

If the “search and rescue” operation needs you to enter or go near a structure, you should first assess the stability of the structure. Uncontrolled movement on/around the structure could further destabilize the structure, causing more damage to the people who might be already trapped beneath the debris, as well as causing damage to the rescuers and/or curious onlookers and bystanders.

Searching inside a building
If you are going inside a building, the biggest risk is that you might loose your way – while inside the building. At any time - while inside the building, you should always be in a position to be able to evacuate immediately – in case, there are some threat perceptions (say: aftershocks of an earthquake), or, any other instability to the structure, or, some other hazard (say: fire etc.) One of the simplest way is: when entering a building, keep your left hand along the wall (on your left side), and, move only along this wall. If you have to move away from the wall, come back immediately to the same wall – at the earliest possible. If you encounter doors/passages along, you might enter those doors/passages – as long as – you have your left hand along the wall. The advantage is: If you follow this discipline strictly, there is no way for you to get lost. In case of a need, you can always retrace back your steps. Simply turn-around, and, put your right hand along the wall (on your right side – after turning around), and, follow the wall. It is as simple as that.

Some of the reasons, why you might have to leave the wall:

  • Some obstruction (say, table etc. kept alongside the wall). In such cases, it might be better to walk around the obstruction, rather than walk over it.
  • Some victim slightly away from the wall. Since, the aim was to rescue the victim, you might want to leave the wall, and, approach the victim.

This method is helpful even for conducting searches in dark-buildings. However, dark buildings could create other potential hazards. Hence, if you have to enter a dark building, you should take with you flashlights and torches – because, there might be other potential hazards, which you might not be able to see.

The above approach does not guarantee that you will cover each and every portion of the building. The amount of portion covered would depend on the layout of the building, its doors etc. However, it provides 100% assurance that you wont get lost.

Whenever you enter a building to conduct a search/rescue operation, always ensure that there are people outside who are aware of the fact that you have gone inside the building. While some members of the search team are gone inside the building, some other members should stay outside – but – in communication with the members who have gone inside.

Searching for people trapped under debris
This should be done very carefully. This presents two dimensions of danger. As you move debris, you could be changing the balance of the debris, and, thereby – further destabilizing whatever structure exists. Before you start to move large pieces of rocks and debris, make an attempt to listen below debris and catch any sign of movement, or, somebody’s response. Always call-out for somebody having been trapped below the debris. The response could be in terms of a voice from the trapped person – or, some taps by the victim. Even if there is no response, it should *not* be assumed that there is nobody below. The trapped person could be unconscious, or, might be too feeble to respond.

This means, while removing debris from one place, the removed debris should not be put on top of another pile of debris – which is not guaranteed to be clear of any trapped person. Otherwise, somebody trapped below this “other pile” could be getting further trapped. This also means that the rescue operations should always be conducted from outside towards inside – unless, it is known for certain that the inner portion of the debris contains some victims – in which case, we might attend to the inner portion immediately.

While removing debris, one should continuously try to assess, if there is a victim below. Its possible that a victim who was not able to hear you can now hear you – as some layers of debris have been removed. Once you know that there is a victim, and, that person has given an indication that he/she can hear you, continue to always convey messages of encouragement and reassurance that the relief team is on its way. This will provide an immense psychological boost to the victim.

When conducting relief operations in debris, the entire efforts should be coordinated. If several teams are working without any coordination, the various teams could come in each other’s way – as well as cause imbalance to the structure, causing it to further fall, and, this time, it could take the rescue personnel down. Also, some simple safety precautions should be taken.

  1. At any instant, no part of your body should be below any heavy object. Suppose, you have to lift a heavy object. As soon as its lifted slightly above the ground, put some piece of brick, wooden log, rock etc. directly below the object. The idea is: If for some reason, the object slips through or falls, your hand/legs should have a good clearing from the ground. Use some sturdy stick/pole etc. to place/move bricks/logs etc. below the object being lifted, rather than putting your own hand/leg below the object.
  2. Lifting: If you have to lift a heavy object, don’t bend your body around waist. It could cause back-pain. The right way is to bend your knees, while, keeping your back straight. Hold the object firmly, and, now, straighten your legs/knee.
  3. Instead of using your force, use the concept of levers to lift heavy objects. A lever is a sturdy pole. Place one end of this pole below the object to be lifted. Place some strong, solid piece of material below this pole, not very far (say: at approximately 1/3rd the total length of the pole – from the object to be lifted). Go to the other end of the pole. Now, you can pull the other end down, and, the object would get lifted. The effort that you would require to lift would be too less, compared to the object being lifted. The other advantage is: your limbs are nowhere directly below the object being lifted.

    One of the concerns could be: when there is so much destruction all-around, where would we get such sophisticated tools. Well, the tools would be found in the debris itself.

  4. Don’t forget to wear gloves, when you are dealing with debris, and, a pair of good shoes. There might be glass-shards, sharp edges, and, what not.
Triage The concept of “triage” was introduced by French military, and, it translates into: “sort”ing.

During a disaster, there might be too many people who need medical attention – and, medical facilities would be in severe short-supply. Hence, its important to sort out the victims in terms of:

  • who needs immediate medical treatment
  • for whom can the treatment be delayed
  • who need not be given any treatment

The last category includes people, who don’t need medical treatment, because they are not much hurt, or, people who are already dead. This last category also includes people, who need not be given any treatment, because their chances of survival are very remote. For all practical purposes, these people might be treated as “dead”. The logic here is: instead of tying up medical facilities for this person – who has almost no sign of survival, the same facility might be extended to somebody – who has a much better chance of surviving.

Thus, as part of “triage”, its highly possible that a person who is actually alive might be classified as “dead”. Needless to say, this experience could provide quite traumatic for the person conducting the categorization. It is not easy to classify a living person as “dead”, and, be aware that this classification/judgement would deny him any chance of survival. However, the right context to look at is: by not tying up the medical resources for this one person, you are actually providing the chance of treatment and survival to some more people. Otherwise, an attempt to get medical treatment to this person – could result in denial of timely treatment to another person, who had a much better chances of survival, while, this person anyways does not survive.

Sometimes, a person in very heavy pain could be crying the loudest, but, that does not mean he/she needs immediate treatment. His/her treatment could be delayed – without any risk of his/her life. E.g. a fractured arm etc. While, this person could be in immense pain, his treatment can wait. His sight could also evoke immense sympathy – but, once again, this is a case where, the volunteer has to exercise his/her mind judiciously.

The people who might need immediate treatment are:

  • those who are loosing blood
  • those who seem to be in a state of delirium
  • those who are showing weakness of vital signs

Sometimes, a person might be unconscious. In the absence of any medical instrument, and, lack of adequately trained medical staff, it might be difficult to judge the strength of vital signs. A good indication in such situations could be: Pinch and hold one of the fingers between your thumb and index finger for 2-3 seconds. Now, leave his/her finger. Observe, how long does it take for that particular place to turn back to normal (pinkish) colour. If it takes longer to turn back into the normal colour, his/her vital signs are not very good.