Few people actually consider that DAN’s emergency on-call staff answers more than 3,500 calls to the DAN® Emergency Hotline each year. Not surprisingly, a considerable number of these calls involve situations that could have been managed with good planning and a careful eye to preparation. Although contacting DAN can be a vital part of any emergency plan, DAN’s effectiveness as an assistance provider is greatest when it is treated as one component of a larger, more comprehensive plan.
When preparing for emergencies, be ready for a variety of scenarios. It’s impossible to anticipate everything, but a good plan can reduce the fear, anxiety and loss associated with an emergency. Not all dive emergency plans are created equal, but all have the same purpose: to list essential considerations and provide a framework for performing key functions in response to an incident. Emergency plans can be divided into three sections: prevention, preparedness and response. How does your plan measure up?
While it’s true that written emergency plans typically start at “the incident,” attention to factors that cause dive emergencies can avert them altogether. The best dive emergency is the one that never happens.
Physical fitness — Exercise for cardiopulmonary fitness, strength, flexibility and muscular endurance commensurate with your style of diving and the demands of the dive environment.
Medical fitness — Consider both chronic medical issues and short-term health concerns. Congestion increases the risk of ear or sinus barotrauma, and traveling divers often deal with gastrointestinal problems that can affect general health and stamina. Be honest with yourself prior to diving; if you are feeling less than 100 percent healthy, it may be best to postpone diving.
Appropriate training and education — Never stop developing your diving abilities. Continuing education helps refine basic skills and broadens general diving knowledge, both of which increase your ability to prevent or respond to an emergency. Get training for the type of diving you are interested in pursuing, whether it’s drift, reef, wreck, mixed-gas or cave diving, and practice skills like buoyancy and navigation.
Proper and well-maintained diving equipment — Divers must understand the capabilities and limitations of their own equipment and their buddy’s. This means having your gear inspected and getting appropriate training in its use and maintenance.
Safe and conservative diving habits — Take the time to examine and evaluate your dive habits and styles. Work to develop a culture of safety for yourself and your group.
Knowledge of local hazards — Familiarize yourself with potential hazards unique to particular dive sites. Consider hazardous marine life, currents and the potential for rapid changes to weather or sea conditions.
Despite our best efforts to prevent them, emergencies still happen. The better prepared you are to deal with them, the better the outcomes will be. Preparedness is about having the right pieces in place when disaster strikes.
Knowledge of local resources — Develop a written list of facilities and emergency resources in the area, including hospitals and clinics, search-and-rescue providers and transportation or evacuation services. Keep the list up to date by periodically verifying the accuracy of the information, and enter the most important numbers in your phone. Remember that injured divers should always be taken to the nearest medical facility, not the closest chamber. Chambers are not always equipped to receive injured divers directly; an evaluation by a physician must come first.
First aid training — Get trained in basic life support and oxygen administration, and know what training and skills your fellow divers have. DAN offers the Basic Life Support and First Aid and the
Oxygen First Aid for Scuba Diving Injuries courses, among others.
Emergency equipment — Have a well-stocked first aid kit and enough oxygen to last at least one injured diver a trip to the hospital. Routinely inspect the contents of your first aid kit to ensure nothing is missing, damaged or expired. Check the hose, O-ring and pressure of your oxygen cylinder.
Information sharing — Tell your buddy about any allergies or medical conditions you have as well as what insurance coverage you have, whether you’re a DAN Member and anything else that might be important in the event you’re not able to participate in your care. If you’re uncomfortable sharing personal information, write it down, seal it in an envelope, and let your buddy know what and where it is. Also, make sure someone on shore knows where you are and when to expect you back.
Mental readiness — Be an aware diver. Know that even when we do everything right, bad things can happen. Don’t be caught off guard when they do. One level head can create calm in the midst of chaos.
Response is the implementation of the plan. It’s the split-second decisions made and the actions taken that affect the outcome of the day’s events.
Scene management — During an emergency situation, it is important to have preassigned tasks to specific individuals. Determine who will provide care to the injured, who will call 911, who will manage bystanders and who will secure equipment. Make sure your plan accounts for any divers still in the water.
Patient care — Remember that rescuer and bystander safety comes first; don’t forget to wear gloves when providing care. Ensure circulation, airway and breathing. Stop any bleeding you find, and provide oxygen.
Communications and logistics — Good coordination of the various parties involved in an emergency reduces everyone’s stress. Designate someone to liaise among the caregivers, the captain and crew, emergency services personnel and DAN. This person ensures everybody knows what they need to know.
Documentation — Good notes allow caregivers to observe trends in an injured diver’s condition, serve as a reminder of what treatments have been administered and provide legal protection.
Debriefing — Give everyone involved in an emergency the opportunity to discuss what happened. Allow each participant to describe his or her own experiences and ask each other questions in an environment free from judgment. Formal processing of the event can improve psychological well-being and enhance individuals’ ability to respond to future emergencies.
Diving should be a positive experience. Dive with care. Remember that DAN is here to answer any questions you may have about your emergency plan, but we can’t create it for you. DAN is a part of your emergency plan, but there are many other parts you must put into place yourself. Incorporating these important elements and promoting good planning to divers of all levels, from novice to instructor, contributes to safer diving for everyone.
© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2011