Via The Conversation: Take care: challenges medical relief teams face after disaster. Excerpt:
As medical relief teams from Nepal and the rest of the world work to distribute supplies and care for survivors, it’s worth understanding how health workers handle extreme emergency situations.
As a trauma psychologist at the University of Florida I provide support to people coping with catastrophic injuries. I also assist in the training of health-care workers on preparing for extreme emergencies and mass casualities.
The painful truth is that it is impossible to be fully prepared for what to expect in a disaster situation. In training health and emergency professionals for these events, topics range from the ethics of triage to setting up safe practice locations to facilitating access to care. We initially cover safety and preparation factors, but we also focus on well-being and mental health needs for health workers and first responders.
People working in this field often view themselves with a “person-of-steel” mentality – placing themselves in peril by ignoring their own needs. This is why training focuses not just on the needs of survivors, but on the relief team participants as well.
In 2010, I was part of a medical relief team working in Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the nation. The parallels between the Haitian earthquake and the April 25 2015 Nepal earthquake are stark. Like Haiti, Nepal also requires emergency assistance from the world community. What, then, are the lessons we can bring forward from the earlier event that can assist relief teams today in Nepal?
Be prepared and take care of yourself
When we arrived in Haiti, we knew that food and fresh water would be an issue. Prior to departure, our team received advice that we should pack several days of supplies for ourselves. We did – and those supplies were either mishandled at the airport and given away to other volunteers, or given away to survivors who were begging for help.
So on day one, our primary mission was not to save lives, but to save ourselves. Right away we counted ourselves among the earthquake survivors who had no immediate source for food or water and it took several hours to locate a UN camp to help us out.
Aid teams must be prepared to change gears to ensure their own survival and prepare for the unexpected, even at the cost of delaying care.