Friday, June 29, 2012

Emergencies in The Great Outdoors

   On the suggestion of my friend Cain I am writing today about emergency situations while in The Great Outdoors. I won't get into any Bear Grylls type stuff (no drinking your own urine here), this is merely a basic guide to common situations that arise outdoors. These situations vary in type and nature, including dangerous weather, injury, getting lost, and wild animals. While reading, make sure you remember these three rules from 1) Avoid Danger 2) Don't Panic 3) Be Prepared. For the sake of length I am going to break these situations up into different posts, starting today with dangerous weather.Dangerous weather for our sakes will consists of thunderstorms, extreme cold or heat, and wildfire especially with these occurring already this summer across the United States.

   Thunderstorms are one of the most dangerous natural phenomena as they can occur seemingly out of nowhere and bring with it large bolts of charged electricity known as Lightning. According to The Weather Channel there are an average of 57 deaths by lightning a year (tied with Tornadoes) and can strike as far away as ten-miles from the actual thunderstorm. Florida is considered the "Lightning Capital of the U.S." with an average of 1.45 million lightning strikes each year and 25.3 strikes per square mile, has the most fatalities from lightning (460 from 1959-2009) and had ten cities on the list of the top fifteen metropolitan areas with lightning fatalities per square mile. However, that is no reason to avoid going outdoors, just make sure you check the weather before you go out and follow some easy pointers.
  1. Follow the 30-30 rule or after you hear thunder begin counting and if you see lightning in under 30 seconds it is time to seek shelter. 
  2. Avoid open areas, get off the water, get away from rocky areas and caves, and don't stand under tall trees or objects. 
  3. If you can't avoid being in one of the aforementioned situations then get to the lowest place possible and crouch down in the Lightning Safety Position.
    Extreme cold or heat are easier to prepare for because they are much easier to predict than a storm or fire, but can be even more deadly and painful. Being the summer we will just focus on extreme heat, but be sure to check back come fall for tips on extreme cold. Extreme heat is the most dangerous weather with 8,015 deaths in the United States from 1979-2003, more than the other natural disasters combined according to the Center for Disease Control. An exact definition of "extreme heat" does not exist, but it is any temperature substantially hotter and/or more humid than is usual for the region and can lead to over 7 different types of heat related illnesses (you can find the various heat-related illnesses and their symptoms at WebMD). Prevention is the key with heat-related illness, so follow these steps to prevent succumbing to the heat:
  1. As much as I hate to use the cliche," If you can't take the heat, get out of the sun." It is the truth. If you feel you may be at risk for any of the heat-related illnesses then get into an air conditioned environment or at the least, find some shade.
  2. Hydrate
  3. Hydrate
  4. Hydrate with a sports drink or other supplement that restores the minerals you lose through sweat.
  5. Dress appropriately for the sun. Wear a hat, light clothing (fabric and color), and check out some of the Sun Protection Clothing they now make.
  6. Apply a high SPF, broad spectrum, waterproof sunblock and make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after application before going into the water or it will do you no good. Reapply frequently.
  7. Don't go into The Great Outdoors alone. Make sure you have a buddy with you because the last thing you want is to be passed out or ill with no one to help you.
   Wildfires are the easiest to avoid and so I will also talk briefly about prevention. Colorado has seen some bad wildfires so far this summer and many other states in the west and southeast see them frequently. They are large, grow quickly, are difficult to stop, are very unpredictable, and destroy all in their path. If you hear about a wildfire, or see massive plumes of smoke, GO AWAY; the only thing you can do with a wildfire is to get a safe distance away from it. On the other hand at least we can stop them from occurring, as our friend Smokey the Bear says," Only YOU can prevent wildfires." Follow these campfire safety steps so you aren't  'that guy' that burns down the forest along with peoples' homes and livelihood:
  1.  Check out the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Fire Danger Level and please, if it says the danger is high, avoid campfires.
  2. If you are going camping make sure you check with the National Forest, National Park, State Park, etc to see if campfires are permitted.
  3. Research proper campfire safety 
  4. Don't throw cigarette butts, coals, or any other hot or smoldering thing on the ground. Just because you think it is out doesn't mean it can't spark a fire.
  5. Make sure your fire is completely out. Pour water over it, cover it with sand, just do what you need to do to ensure there are no hot coals left.
   Apologies for the long post, but I want to ensure that you are prepared for this summer and all the fun that can be had. By always following these safety precautions, you can make them second-nature and ensure that your fun will never be ruined by heat stroke, getting struck by lightning or burning the forest to the ground. Above all else, use your intuition; chances are if you stop and use common sense, most disasters can be avoided.

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