Be a better bystander: Know how to help in an emergency

Trauma — a disabling or life-threatening injury — is a common effect of natural disasters.
Bystanders who provide basic emergency care during disasters can help save lives. But they need to know how.

Isaac Lasko, a volunteer for Tufts University’s Emergency Medical Services and a biomedical engineering student with a pre-med focus, talked to APHA’s Get Ready campaign about actions people can take to help injured people in the time before professional help arrives.

“For natural disasters, what all of the safety really comes down to is prevention,” Lasko said.

Trauma is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 46. About 20 percent of U.S. trauma deaths in 2014 could have been prevented if there had been better care for victims when they were injured.

That’s where people like you come in. The primary way bystanders can make a difference is by assessing the situation and giving care that prevents things from getting worse, Lasko said. He recommends starting by checking a victim’s ABCs — airway, breathing and circulation.

“A two-hour class in basic CPR can give somebody the skills to really keep the A, B and C alive to the best of the ability of a bystander,” said Lasko.

Controlling bleeding is another crucial way you can help. For example, using towels or cloths to apply pressure to a wound can help stop bleeding after a serious injury, said Lasko. If bleeding doesn’t stop, tourniquets can also be used as a last resort to tie off a wound.

Often the best way to contribute to an emergency situation is to stay calm and reduce stress, Lasko said.

“Calmness, or the lack thereof, is something that people pick up from each other, so as a group you make the best decisions and you keep people feeling the safest,” he said.

Knowing the disaster risks in your community is also helpful. For example, in Massachusetts, where Tufts University is located, EMTs are often concerned with hypothermia, Lasko said. During extreme cold emergencies, people don’t have the same ability to regulate body temperature.

The American Red Cross offers classes that can teach you how to help out in an emergency. Another option is to volunteer with your local Community Emergency Response Team program, which can help you gain basic disaster response skills.

Learning the basics can help you be a better bystander.

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