The on-call staff at Divers Alert Network® (DAN®) answer more than 2,500 emergency calls each year. In many cases, the outcome may have been better if an effective emergency action plan (EAP) had been place.
A basic EAP outlines the steps first responders should take in a diving or nondiving emergency. The plan should be clear enough that an untrained bystander could assist if needed. This doesn’t mean the plan needs to include directions on how to administer emergency oxygen, but at the very least it should have information on how to activate emergency medical services (EMS).
The best way to handle an incident is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Some common factors that lead to serious dive accidents include:
- Poor physical fitness
- Anxiety or uncertainty
- Inexperience or forgotten skills
- Lack of equipment maintenance
- Inadequate dive planning
If your dive buddy, or anyone else appears unprepared to dive, caution the diver not to avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Remember, it’s ok to call a dive and not a sign of weakness to ask a more experienced diver to be your buddy, rework your plan to have a less demanding dive or to simply not dive until you’ve had the opportunity to refresh your skills. A good dive is one where everyone makes it home safely.
Preparation and Practice
Should an emergency occur, improve the odds of a positive outcome through proper planning and preparation. Ensure the EAP is realistic by imagining different scenarios: a diver with symptoms of DCS, someone who falls and can’t walk unassisted, a cardiac incident, a missing diver. Consider what needs to be done in each of these situations and include relevant steps in your plan. Every diver’s EAP should include:
1. Details on How to Activate EMS
Make a written list of emergency resources near your dive site and how to reach them. This may include a hospital, clinic, search and rescue providers, evacuation services, etc. Injured divers should always be taken to the closest medical facility as not all injuries require hyperbaric chamber treatment.
Write down any telephone numbers or radio frequencies you may need in an emergency. Phone Divers Alert Network (DAN) only after trying to contact local emergency personnel.
In some areas, a layperson may need to transport the injured diver. In these instances, be prepared with a hard copy of directions to the nearest hospital and a contact number for the emergency room (to alert the facility that an injured diver is on the way).
2. The Location of Emergency Equipment and How to Use It
In an emergency, every moment counts. If you have a first aid kit, ensure it’s fully-stocked and the medications have not expired. Find out if emergency oxygen is available (onboard the boat, or at a nearby dive shop). Ideally, there should be enough oxygen to care for at least one injured diver until medical personnel can arrive. If you don’t have the skills to administer emergency oxygen and basic first aid, get trained. In the meantime, identify who in your group may have these skills.
3. What Information Should Be Shared?
Tell your buddy and any dive staff (if applicable) about any allergies or medical conditions you have. If you’re uncomfortable sharing personal information, write it down, seal it in an envelope and let your buddy know where it is. Always tell someone on shore where you’re going and when you expect to return.
A safe and effective EAP puts rescuer safety first and includes clearly defined roles.
- Assign roles: precious minutes can be saved when a designated person contacts EMS while others focus on providing care to the injured diver. If your buddy is injured and no one else is available, activate EMS before performing aid. In a larger group, decide who will call EMS and direct them to the scene while others provide care. If others can lend a hand, assign someone to retrieve dive gear, manage bystanders, and/or account for divers still in the water.
- Document: detailed notes about a diver’s maximum depth, dive duration and when they first experienced symptoms can help caregivers understand an injured diver’s condition. Taking photos with your phone may also assist in making a diagnosis. Documented information may also provide legal protection to involved parties.
- Use barriers: rescuer safety comes first. Wear gloves when rendering first aid and use a barrier device such as a pocket mask when providing CPR.
Continually Evaluate Your Plan
Ensure your plan remains effective by evaluating it every few months. Facilities close, EMS details change, first aid supplies expire, and dive buddies come and go. Periodically check supplies and practice executing the plan with your current dive group.
For more information, view How Good Is Your Emergency Action Plan? This video examines the key pieces of an emergency action plan, including what information is necessary in a time of crisis and why. In addition to reviewing the components every emergency assistance plan should contain, the 40-minute video also includes EAP recommendations based on input from medical professionals, dive industry professionals and DAN staff.