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Personal Safety for Hurricane Rescue and Recovery

Hurricane Florence has done its damage. People and property have been devasted by this horrific weather event. Rescue and recovery efforts are still underway. Our hearts go out to those affected. Many of us want to help in whatever way we can. Some of us are involved in businesses and industries that send individuals, crews, equipment and resources to help alleviate the pain, suffering, and damage.

I think there’s nothing more amazing than helping people every day. – Naomie Harris

Any disaster (both man-made or natural) can create hazards for personnel who are rescuing or conducting recovery work. If organized properly, someone will always be in charge of conducting safety briefs to ensure people know what the hazards are, where it is safe for them to be, where they should not go, and when. This is critical to not adding to the already growing injury and death toll. It is even more critical that people involved in the operation listen closely to the briefings and not go off on their own.

It is my experience that during these times people want to run into the fray to conduct rescues or get everything back to normal as soon as possible. It’s a natural response. However, rushing into a situation without a plan is not smart and it is dangerous   If you are a person involved in this type of operation keep in mind that…

  • Unless told and directed by someone in authority, you are not in charge. In most disasters there are those who will take charge. In one case a civilian actually dressed up like a police officer and began directing activities. Finally someone asked, “Who is this guy?” When they figured out that he was not an official, he was in serious trouble. He was doing a good job, but imagine that every person shows up in an official looking uniform and takes charge! Chaos will be the result. During disaster recover, find who is the chief of the operation and make sure they are really in charge.
  • Before you leave your home to drive into a disaster keep in mind that you may be adding to the chaos by showing up uninvited. Resources such as water, food, toilets, and lodging can be scarce during a disaster recovery. If you are going and nothing will stop you, take provisions for several days for yourself and throw in extra. Really, your best bet is to wait until someone directs you to an effort, but always ask about the conditions at the disaster area. Find out if there is a central command center or area for registering as a volunteer. You will find yourself more useful in a coordinated effort rather than wandering through an area to find out where to help.  If you are on medicines that require refrigeration you may be better off staying at home so you do not compound the situation.
  • Be willing to say, “No I can’t (or don’t know how to) do that.” Many times people are willing to do anything to help. A person who jumps onto a piece of equipment and does not have any experience can certainly create a greater hazard.
  • Pay attention. When someone in authority is speaking to a group you are in, listen-up. Keep comments to yourself until the speaker asks for questions. Before you ask a question think it through. During the moment it may seem like a good question, but after a bit of thought you might find that you answered your own question.
  • If during a briefing you are told to stay out of a certain area, STAY OUT. In one such storm I am familiar with an electrical worker is thought to have ventured out on his own into an area that was off limits because electrical energy had not been confirmed de-energized. He was later found dead from being electrocuted. Safety briefings are part of the communication strategy that is critical to a successful rescue and recover operation.

During a crisis it is important to be a part of the solution and to not become a part of the problem. Use common sense and make sure you are helping and not hindering the process. Something else to keep in mind is the human factor of a disaster. Be a motivator and help people to get through the crisis one step at a time, giving them hope. It can be a very rewarding experience to be a part of the effort; make sure you are there for the right reasons, and willing to take directions from others in authority to get the job done safely and efficiently.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter

About the Author

Carl Potter knows safety and has worked during his career as an electrical worker the challenges of working safe during storm recovery.  He speaks and consults to companies across the globe in the areas of industrial safety.  Carl is a popular speaker to safety events because he uses humor, real-life situations to bring knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and encouragement to his audience in areas of personal safety.  Learn more about Carl at:

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