Emergency action principles

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Emergency action principles are the guiding rules to be employed by the first person, or persons, on the scene of an emergency. The nature of emergencies is such that it is impossible to prescribe a specific list of actions to be completed before the event happens, so principles form a framework on which to base forward actions.

The adherence to the principles by would be rescuers varies widely based on the training the people involved in emergency have received, the support available from emergency services (and the time it will take to arrive) and the emergency itself.

There are many overlaps between emergency action principles and principles of first aid, firefighting and other emergency service activities.

The Key Emergency Principle

The key principle taught in almost all systems is that the rescuer, be they a lay person or a professional, should assess the situation for Danger.

The reason that an assessment for Danger is given such high priority is that it is core to emergency management that rescuers do not become secondary victims of any incident, as this creates a further emergency that must be dealt with.

A typical assessment for Danger would involve observation of the surroundings, starting with the cause of the accident (e.g. a falling object) and expanding outwards to include any situational hazards (e.g. fast moving traffic) and history or secondary information given by witnesses, bystanders or the emergency services (e.g. an attacker still waiting nearby).

Once a primary danger assessment has been complete, this should not end the system of checking for danger, but should inform all other parts of the process.

If at any time the risk from any hazard poses a significant danger (as a factor of likelihood and seriousness) to the rescuer, they should consider whether they should approach the scene (or leave the scene if appropriate).

Principles for assessing an emergency

Once a primary check for danger has been undertaken, a rescuer is then likely to follow a set of principles, which are largely common sense. These assessment principles are the types of information that the emergency services will ask when summoned.

This information usually includes number of Casualties, history of what's happened and at what time, location and access to the site and what emergency services are likely to be required, or that are already on scene. There are several mnemonics which are used to help rescuers remember how to conduct this assessment, which include CHALET (Casualties, Hazards, Access, Location, Emergency Services, Type of Incident) and ETHANE (Exact Location, Type of Incident, Hazards, Access, Number of casualties, Emergency services required)

For small scale medical incidents (one or two casualties), the rescuer may also conduct a first aid assessment of the patient(s) in order to gather more information. The most widely used system is the ABC system and it's variations, where the rescuer checks the basics of life on the casualty (primarily their breathing in modern protocols).

In larger incidents, of any type, most protocols teach that casualty assessment should not start until emergency services have been summoned (as multiple casualties are expected).

Accurate reporting of this important information helps emergency services dispatch appropriate resource to the incident, in good time and to the right place.

Summoning Emergency Services

After undertaking a scene survey, the rescuer needs to decide what, if any, emergency services will be required. In many cases, an apparent emergency may turn out to be less serious than first thought, and may not require the intervention of the emergency services.

If emergency services are required, the lay person would normally call for help using their local emergency telephone number, which can be used to summon professional assistance. The emergency dispatcher may well give instructions over the phone to the person on scene, with further advice on what actions to take.

Action whilst awaiting emergency services

The actions following the summoning of the emergency services are likely to depend on the response that the services are able to offer. In most cases, in a metropolitan area, help is likely to be forthcoming within minutes of a call, although in more outlying, rural areas, the time in which help is available increases.

Actions may include:

  • First Aid for casualties on scene
  • Obtaining further history on the incident to pass on the emergency services
  • Checking for further, previously unnoticed, casualties

Or in instances where emergency assistance is delayed, actions may include:

  • Moving any casualties away from danger
  • Undertaking more advanced medical procedures dependant on training