3 reminders to rescuing, evacuating and managing Hurricane Harvey victims

EMS, fire providers should follow lessons from Hurricane Katrina while mobilizing to operate in a large arena of catastrophe

Here at EMS1, our thoughts are with all of those affected by the severe weather and flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Thank you to the first responders—both local EMS, fire and law enforcement providers working tirelessly while facing damage to or loss of their own property, as well as those who have traveled to affected areas to assist with rescue and relief efforts. 

We invite you to join EMS1 in supporting charitable funds specific to the recovery needs of first responders.   

Hurricane Harvey appears to be turning into the largest natural disaster in modern American history. Millions of citizens have been affected by the relentless rain that has deluged the area. The number of those injured or killed has yet to be tallied, but is expected to rise over time.

Following lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, EMS providers, firefighters and other rescue personnel are being mobilized across the country in a coordinated effort to rescue, evacuate and manage victims of the current catastrophe. Rescuers will be entering a large area of destruction, even as events continue to unfold. There are several key issues to keep in mind when operating in such a large arena of operations.

1. Flood waters present unique safety challenges

People wade through chest deep water down Pine Cliff Drive as Addicks Reservoir nears capacity due to near constant rain from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston.
People wade through chest deep water down Pine Cliff Drive as Addicks Reservoir nears capacity due to near constant rain from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Rising water levels have inundated large swaths of land, swallowing neighborhoods and critical infrastructure. Water flowing over roadways can be deadly. Pay attention to mapping updates provided by local officials and avoid the temptation to cross what appears to be slow-moving water.

Avoid wading through flood water without appropriate rigging and safety gear, including steel-enforced footwear, to avoid being injured by hidden objects.

Be flexible in deployment. Rapidly rising waters may force the relocation of rescue operations and incident command centers.

Ironically, all of that flood water often results in a lack of potable drinking water as sewage treatment centers are overwhelmed and pumping systems fail. Only drink water that has been deemed safe.

2. Stay rested, stay healthy

Long duration operations are taxing on the body as well as the mind. Rescuers can become unaware of fatigue as they pile on hours of continuous work and attention, resulting in a higher potential of injury and illness. Stay rested, hydrated and fed during deployment. Avoid foods loaded with salt and sugar, and keep caffeine use to a reasonable level.

Ongoing, continual exposure to critical incidents can lead to emotional stress. While each of us might manage such stress differently, definitely seek a friendly ear of a coworker to vent if needed. Don't forget that this level of incident stress may not manifest itself until long after the event is over.

3. Be part of the hurricane response system

While it has been awesome to watch community members helping each other out during the storm, it also concerns me that they are not working within a system designed to help them stay safe. As seen in previous major events, such as the World Trade Center collapse and Hurricane Katrina, showing up to volunteer unannounced can be as harmful as it is helpful. Being part of a management system such as FEMA USAR, DHHS DMAT, or ambulance strike team affords you the training, equipment and resources to help out most effectively during major incidents.

You can still help Harvey victims

Donating money is perhaps one of the most effective ways an individual can help in a natural disaster. Major relief organizations such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities are accepting cash donations. A local effort such as the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund is a good alternative as well.

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