Following the recent earthquake that claimed lives of many Rwandans, it is incumbent upon us to be on the standby and well equipped with skills of administering first aid to victims of earth tremors.
Much as administering first aid is an easier phenomenon with a first aid kit, it is quite different when it comes to earthquake victims; there are some practical ways of how to go about it.
In consideration are persons who may be overwhelmed or injured by the event and have difficulty of coping with the effects of the trauma. You may be able to help those persons make it through the first few difficult hours.
Another group are those who are physically injured and need immediate attention. These too require practical skills from the person administering first aid.
Before the earthquake
Preparing your family by discussing the possible effects of an earthquake to your home, workplace, school, and community is of great value.
Try all possible means to train family members in first aid. Learn how to switch off electricity, gas, and water at the main fuse box or valve.
Setting aside emergency supplies such as food and water for at least 72 hours, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries is tremendously important.
Check your home for potential risks of leaving water heaters, refrigerators and other electrical appliances running over night.
During the earthquake
Remain where you are, calm and do not panic. When inside a house and in high-rise buildings, get under a desk or heavy furniture; keep away from windows and objects that could fall.
Be prepared for the building to sway and shift. Outdoors, stay a distance away from buildings, trees and electric power lines. In a car, stop at the side of the road.
Avoid bridges, overpasses, and overhead wires. Turn on the radio for broadcasted precautions and stay in the car until the earthquake ends.
After the earthquake
Wearing shoes if near debris, check for injured people and administer first aid. Check for fire hazards, children, pets and damaged utilities. Do not turn off the gas unless you smell or see a leakage.
Inspect for leaks by smell only and do not use lit candles or matches. Do not turn on electrical switches or appliances. If you smell gas, shut off the main valve and open all windows and doors.
If electricity and water lines are damaged move fast and turn off the system at the main fuse box or valve. Do not turn on gas or electricity again until the utility company has inspected your home.
Turn on a portable or car radio for emergency news bulletins and instructions. Restrict telephone use to medical, fire or public safety emergencies. Clean up spilled medicines, flammable liquids, bleaches and chemicals.
Open closets and cupboards cautiously. Stay out of damaged buildings until you know they are safe. Do not touch electrical lines or broken appliances. Do not use your vehicle, except for an emergency. Keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.
Dr. Agnès Uwayezu, the Director of Nursing at King Faisal Hospital, gives a few tips that are worth keeping:
- A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-keep in every household. It should contain an assortment of bandages; band Aids, tape, aspirin, antiseptic cream and cleanser, safety pins, scissors, tweezers, cotton and tissues.
- Evacuate the building if it is badly damaged and during evacuation, close all doors, and turn off all electrical equipment.
- Attempt to calm the victim to relieve the anxiety and stress. Command confidence in yourself as well as concern for the victim. Show the victim that you care by your attitude.
- Protect against infectious diseases by using rubber gloves and face shields. Rubber gloves will keep you from contact with blood and body fluids, and face shields will allow you to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
- Immediately tie all bleeding parts of the victim’s body to avoid bleeding which can cause sudden death.
- When you find that you cannot handle the patient’s situation, always call for emergency medical assistance, however skilled you may be in first aid.
- Move cautiously and wear enclosed, sturdy shoes to avoid injury from broken glass or other debris at the scene.
- Accept the patient and encourage the person to speak freely about whatever is on their mind. Be very patient and when the person begins talking, interrupt as little as possible.
- Do not argue with the person in case of disagreement and do not impose your ideas upon the patient.
- At the scene, take note of any person missing. Provide all requested information to the rescue team and other emergency response personnel.
After a severe earthquake, essential services such as police, fire, and paramedics may not be able to respond to the needs of your neighbourhood until after some time.
Normal supplies of food and water may be unavailable. Telephones may not work. Transportation and utility systems may all be damaged.
Community preparedness begins with sensitising the community about earthquake hazards and available resources. Meet and find out who has the skills that will be useful before and after an earthquake.
With such skills and awareness, more of our country men will survive the disaster that strikes at the least expected time.