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Extreme cold can bring excessive ice or snow, or a severe lowering of temperatures, which can kill quickly. While many problems can result from extreme cold, most you can correct in a few minutes, if you have the gear and most of you will in your homes. Additional problems may be water pipes will burst, power line may drop, and snow or ice may make travel impossible�even to a grocery store. However, the biggest danger in cold weather is hypothermia, a sometimes-fatal injury.
Hypothermia is a potentially deadly situation that can be prevented, if you know what it is, and how it kills. Hypothermia is the lowering of the body's core temperature. Most of us have a body temperature of between 97 and 99 degrees. When our temperature drops internally to below this normal range hypothermia sets in. If the core temperature is not returned to normal, death usually occurs. We have all felt the beginning stages of hypothermia -- we start to shiver.
Hypothermia can happen in almost any temperature range and even indoors! Keep in mind, most high temperature range hypothermia will usually occur with the elderly, but it can still hit others as well, especially if the cold is the result of a natural disaster. When your internal temperature drops to below 90 degrees, you are in severe hypothermia. Confused? Well, now that you know what hypothermia is, let me share some other interesting information with you.
Your body heat can be lowered by any number of reasons, exhaustion, exposure to the elements, lack of food, poor diet, immersion (if your boat turns over, rain, or you fall into a stream), wet or damp clothing, and the list goes on. That is one of the reasons in my survival books I often remind you to keep your clothing clean, in good repair, and dry. Most of us have experienced the beginning of hypothermia while walking to school, waiting for a friend outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping. We start to shiver and shake. Usually, we just add a sweater or jacket, go indoors, or we just move closer to the fire. Except, what happens when we fail to get warm? What happens in extreme cases?
Well, the symptoms of hypothermia are in stages and there are many sites online offering additional information for those of you interested in learning more. I suggest you visit some of those sites and take a look at what they have to say. Keep in mind to stay with sites that know what they are talking about, such as U. S. Government or Medical Organizations. While I am not a doctor and other than some survival first aid classes I have attended, I cannot claim to be an expert on the subject. Nonetheless, I do know the symptoms, and they may start with a sudden burst of energy, then maybe�.
A feeling that �everything is alright�
The removing of clothing in cold or wet weather
A slow response
Loss of motor skills (lack of coordination)
Irrational behavior for the individual
If these symptoms are noticed or felt, regardless of the ambient air temperature, treat for hypothermia. This treatment may be as simple as just warming the person up. This warming up may just require an additional layer of clothing, a hot drink or maybe a fire. In more advance cases, other steps may have to be taken. Advanced treatment may require:
Undressing the victim and place them in a sleeping bag or bed with another undressed individual, cuddle and use body heat to assist in warming the victim. (Some disagree on this step, but I believe the additional body heat can help).
Finding shelter in a warm building or simply raise the thermostat setting.
Use warm (not hot) rocks and apply warmth to the pit of the stomach, small (lower) back, armpits, back of the neck, wrists, and between the thighs. Of course a heating pad may be used if you still have power.
Give the victim warm fluids and, if possible, increase sugar intake�but only if the victim is conscious.
Avoid alcohol! Alcohol causes vasodilation (increase in surface blood flow), which leads to increased heat loss.
Seek medical treatment immediately if it is possible in your situation.
Okay, now that we have a basic understanding of what hypothermia is, as well as some treatment, how do we determine at what stage a victim is experiencing? I suggest the old survival method I learned from the United States Air Force:
With Mild Hypothermia
Shivering (We have all had this from time to time)
Hands may feel numb
Hands shake badly enough that some tasks cannot be accomplished.
With Moderate Hypothermia
Poor motor skills (poor coordination)
Simple movements are more difficult to do and take longer
If the person cannot pass a sobriety test, i.e., walk in a straight line for 30 feet or so, they likely have hypothermia.
And, in some cases the victim becomes depressed and withdraws.
With Severe Hypothermia
The victim is in a stupor
Skin color may become blue or puffy
Irrational behavior for that individual (remember their normal behavior)
Shivering stops, but muscle coordination and motor skills are very poor.
Pulse and respiration rate drop
Inability to walk, even a short distance
The victim may be unconscious
Heart and respiratory failure may occur
Some things to keep in mind with hypothermia, do not give your victim food, but instead give waters and sugars. The stomach is not capable of processing foods at this point. Every fifteen or twenty minutes give the victim a warm drink. Also, your victim will need to urinate often. If the bladder of the victim is full, the body will use some of its heat to keep the urine warm and not the body. Get your patient to urinate so the body can go back to keeping the major internal organs warm again. Have them urinate often.
Use carbohydrates to provide quick energy in mild cases of hypothermia. Additionally, you can use proteins and fats to assist as well. Both proteins and fats release energy slower than carbohydrates, but the heat generated will last longer overall. Use what you have, and that may be limited by where you are and the medical condition of your patient prior to the emergency. My suggestions are for those assumed to be in good health.
Do not give your victim alcohol, caffeine or tobacco. All three are to be avoided during emergencies, because they increase heat loss or they dehydrate. So, remember in the old western movies where a very cold or injured person is given a shot of whiskey to fight off a chill? Well, that is not only dangerous it's foolish. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco, at all times when treating hypothermia.
Wrap the victim, once you have them dry, in layers and do not allow them to get wet. Keep them dry. I suggest using more than one sleeping bag, pile on the blankets and use a survival �casualty� or �space� blanket if in the field. Remember that both the casualty and space blanket have a reflective side that can be placed toward the victim to reflect body heat and to prevent heat loss. In all cases, keep your victim warm and dry.
Do not just warm the outer portions of your victim and think it will work as a treatment, because it is the inner core you should work on. Placing the victim too near a fire may only compound your problems with treatment. The warming of the outside of your victim may actually cause cold blood to start flowing. This flowing of cold blood may cause further chill to the inner core of your victim and lead to death. Warm the victim from the inside out and do it slowly in most cases.
Well, now we have an idea of what it is and how to treat it, how do we avoid hypothermia to begin with?
Dress for the weather, both indoors and out. Keep in mind that you should dress in layers so that you get heat from the trapped air pockets. Air equals insulation, which equals warmth.
Drink plenty of hot fluids. During survival, find wild plants from which you can use to make a tea. I use a �pine needle� tea. Yes, you guessed it, made from pine needles. If you having nothing to use for tea, sip hot water.
Increase your food intake. Keep in mind the positive aspects of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the treatment of hypothermia.
Limit your exposure to the elements. If the weather turns bad, seek shelter. Do not continue to hike. Intentional exposure to the cold is foolish.
Avoid shivering. If you start to shiver, use common sense. Add additional clothing, have a hot drink, or seek shelter and start a fire.
Carry high-energy food bars and hard candy in your survival kit and keep them in your home.
Avoid exhaustion when moving by taking frequent breaks.
Be aware that anxiety, stress, some medical conditions, or injury may increase the risk of hypothermia.
Hypothermia is only one danger a person dealing with a cold disaster may have to face. There may be broken water pipes, no heat, lack of electrical power, and the list can be long. Nonetheless, it can be the biggest killer to those who have no idea of what it is or how it works. Keep in mind; you can develop hypothermia even in your home. By knowing the symptoms, proper treatment, and how to prevent it, this injury can be avoided in most cases.
Thunderstorms and lightning storms are less severe than a tornado, but can still cause extensive property damage and loss of life. Thunderstorms may bring large hail, which can break windows and even damage your vehicles body. I once saw a number of cars in Oklahoma sporting dings all over them due to hail. Hail also comes in many sizes, from small pea-size to larger than a baseball, and if you're caught outdoors injury could occur. However, high winds are your biggest concern in thunderstorms, which may mean the loss of power from downed electrical lines, or falling trees and limbs. Flooding can happen too, if more rain falls than the drainage system can carry away. Avoid being close to windows, glass doors and make sure you're not under a tornado watch or warning. Of the two, a warning is more serious and means conditions are good for a tornado.
Lightning storms are scary, but usually do little real damage or injury as long as you're indoors. The danger is being outside when lightning strikes. There are many cases of people surviving a lightning strike and all describe a tingling sensation and their hair standing straight up just seconds before the strike. When you see a flash of lightning start counting and for each second, before you hear the thunder clap, you're a mile away from where the lightning struck. It's not all that accurate, but it's a fair indicator of the distance. Here are some things you might want to do and not do:
Do not go outside during a lightning storm.
Seek shelter immediately when a lightning storm approaches.
Do not seek shelter inside a metal building, such as a barn or shed.
Move out of the open, but do not stand under a tall tree.
The odds of you being killed by a lightning strike are small, but it could happen. Use some common sense and seek shelter as soon as you can. Even dark clouds off in the distance can send a lightning bolt toward you, so move indoors on cloudy days.
Tsunamis are the result of earthquakes on the ocean floor and are the direct result of this underwater disturbance. The waves move out in all directions, increasing in height as they near shore. Additionally, they can travel at hundreds of miles an hour in open sea and be as high as 100 feet. Following an earthquake, remember that a tsunami may hit the coast within just a few minutes or it may take longer. Here are a few things to keep in mind about tsunamis:
Most victims of tsunamis drown, but many are killed by blunt trauma, striking objects or being thrown around.
There can be more than one wave and it's possible the second wave will be larger than the first.
If you're near the coast prior to a tsunami and the water on the beach suddenly recedes, this is a warning of an impending tsunami. Move away from the beach as quickly as possible and to higher ground.
Never stay near the beach to watch a tsunami strike the beach, because if you can see the wave, you're too close to escape it.
Tsunamis wash everything away in their path, building, vehicles, and people, with the only protection being high ground. Once the wave, or waves, has done their damage, treat as a flooding disaster as far as survival is concerned.
Devastating tsunamis have struck America before and caused extensive damage and loss of life. Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, California, and Alaska have all suffered tsunamis. Of course, other countries have suffered from tsunamis, with Japan being the most recent in March of this year.
Wild fires are a real threat to those living in rural areas or areas surrounded by thick forests. Dry weather conditions increase the risk of fire, so be prepared. Some things you can do before the disaster strikes to reduce damage or loss of life:
Keep your yard clean and cleared junk, especially combustibles.
Clear a 30-foot area around our home. Remove vines, saplings, shrubs, and other vegetation.
Keep your yard cut to no higher than 2 inches.
Remove fallen limbs, dead wood and leaves as soon as possible.
Do not store gasoline, oils and other flammables under your deck or porch.
If a wild fire threatens you should evacuate immediately, but do a few things before you leave. It is possible you'll have time to do this, because there is usually lots of advanced warning, but do not risk your life or your family to complete these steps:
Close all windows and doors to buildings. Inside building, make sure the inner doors are closed to prevent a draft.
Turn off gas and electrical power at the main source, but leave the water turned on.
If you have one, place a ladder against the side of your house, this will help firefighters fight the fire.
Make sure your garage doors can be opened manually, but keep them shut.
Turn all lights on inside buildings (helps firefighters see your home in dense smoke) and before you leave, make sure all doors are left unlocked.
Take any papers or documents that are important, but do not risk your life to gather them up.
Do not attempt to stay behind to protect your home. Evacuate and wait for the fire to move through your area. Wild fires are dangerous and no one should remain behind, unless trapped. The fires, which burn wildly, thus the name, are unpredictable and death is likely.
Some content from FEMA.