Be the Kind of Person You’d Want Around in a Crisis

emergency preparedness
Caroline Burau
Caroline Burau

It’s bound to happen to each of us at some point in a lifetime: being the first person on the scene of an emergency. Maybe you’ve just seen a car accident and someone has a bleeding head wound. Maybe the lady next to you in line at the gas station has dropped to her knees with chest pain. Maybe your four-year-old has a penny stuck in his throat.

What do you do? Do you take charge or step aside and wait for someone else to? Do you speak calmly or does your voice go up an octave or three? Do you move quickly or freeze?

Nobody knows how he or she will handle a bad situation until faced with it, but there are things you can do and knowledge to keep handy that will make you the type of person anyone would want around in an emergency.

1)  Stay calm. It’s so simple, but can be so difficult. You can have all the technical know-how in the world and be up to date on CPR, First Aid, and everything else, but if you don’t know how to stay calm, you will be useless in a crisis.

Think about the different emergency situations you could encounter in your daily life. Do you live with an elderly person or someone with special needs? Do you know where the fire escapes in your house or building are? Envision how you would want to react. Do you want to be remembered as someone who helped out by staying collected and in charge or do you want to be that jerk who panicked and made things worse?

Panic can be destructive in many ways. A panicked person is often loud or shrill and difficult to understand. A panicked person can make simple mistakes, react too slowly, and make others panic too.

But when you’re calm, it’s contagious. When you’re calm, those around you will follow your lead. Whatever you know about how to put out a stovetop fire, control a bloody nose or any other emergency doesn’t matter until you’ve found a way to stay calm.

2:) Know how to get help. Easy, right? Call 911. Yes! And no, not entirely. There are right and wrong ways to use 911. Don’t scream; speak clearly. Also, know where you are. As cell phones begin to eclipse home phones in popularity, it’s important to know that most 911 centers can’t tell exactly where a cell phone caller is. Be ready with an address or an intersection when you call. If you’re in an apartment or suite, they will need that number too.

When you call 911, be calm (see above!), ready to answer questions, and remember that the person on the other end of the phone is human. You may have to repeat yourself or clarify an answer. Emergency workers call it the “CSI effect” when people call 911 and expect that help will arrive in mere seconds and will resolve the situation immediately. It doesn’t always happen like that in the real world.

Also, remember that in medical emergencies especially, most 911 call-takers are trained to give a variety of instructions (CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver, for example) that could help or even save a life before the first responders arrive. Unless you’re in danger, don’t hang up until the 911 call-taker tells you to. When first responders arrive, be willing to give information as needed and also to step aside and let them work.

3) Get educated. The first two points tell you how you can help without any special knowledge or certifications. Now imagine what a rock star you could be if you stayed calm, got help started, and knew exactly what to do next.

If you’re a parent, for heaven’s sake, learn First Aid and CPR. Get certified and keep it up to date. Don’t ever think the unimaginable can’t happen. Only imagine how glad you’ll be if those skills are ever needed and you have them.

If you’re not a parent, learn First Aid and CPR. Check with your employer about reimbursing the cost of the class; many will do so because it’s a benefit to them as well. If you enjoy that, take it one step further and become a First Responder, usually only about 40 hours of training. You can also call your local police department to find out if a “Citizen’s Police Academy” is offered. These classes are usually free and give the average Joe a little inside scoop about traffic enforcement, emergency response in your home area and crime prevention tips.

Click here to see more articles on by Caroline Burau.

Caroline Burau is a freelance writer, 911 dispatcher, and author of Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. She lives in White Bear Lake, Minn. with her husband, three cats, and one nervous dog.

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