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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Responding to Blizzard Emergencies

Published December 29, 2010 3:49 PM by Pam Tarapchak

"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 crews.

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.

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