Responding to Blizzard Emergencies
(Editor's Note: This blog post was written by Pam Tarapchak, editor of ADVANCE for Nurses).
"A woman with stroke symptoms in Midwood, Brooklyn, waited for an
ambulance for six hours, finally arriving at the hospital with telltale
signs of advanced brain damage. In Forest Hills, Queens, bystanders
waited for three hours next to a man lying unconscious in the snow
before they were able to flag down help. And in Crown Heights, Brooklyn,
a mother in labor who started calling 911 at 8:30 a.m. on Monday did
not get an ambulance until 6 p.m., too late to save the baby."
These dramatic scenes seem almost unreal; but, in reality, they are documented in a New York Times article
written by Sharon Otterman and Al Baker that focuses on the recent
weekend blizzard that slammed New York City with tons of snow.
Two hundred ambulances got trapped en route to emergencies, either
stopped by stuck cars or great amounts of snow. A backlog of 1,300 calls
flooded emergency services. Patients were pulled on sleds to the
nearest hospital from the scene of a burning building.
To me, there is something seriously wrong with this picture. This was
not the first blizzard to hit the East Coast, nor will it be the last.
So, how can emergency services improve in such a scenario? The newspaper
article mentioned how some emergency personnel worked with volunteers
who had Suburbans and Hummers to get to patients who needed help. So why
aren't ambulances built like these types of vehicles to handle
traveling in adverse conditions, like snow, mud and water? Or maybe
there should be all-terrain vehicles EMTs can use to reach patients who
are sick and living in the snow-clogged streets yet cleared by road
Were there enough road crews to clear the snow? And did they start
early enough? Were roads closed at a certain time to ensure more traffic
did not become snarled in the accumulating drifts?
I realize natural disasters bring about extreme circumstances. But
with today's technology and increased attention to emergency
preparedness, I would like to think the scenarios mentioned above had
more positive outcomes.