What This Wilderness Physician Wants You to Know About Indoor Emergencies

September 22, 2015

This is part two of BioLite’s Outdoors for the Indoors Series.

Picture this, it’s the middle of the night and you’ve found a lost kayaker who’s been missing for days.  He’s on the opposite side of an ice cold river and it’s up to you to plunge in and save him. This is a reality for Gabriel Cade, a wilderness and emergency medicine expert (and former Survivor participant) who specializes in the application of technology in remote settings. Gabriel recently got his hands on our gear and put it to the ultimate test, using the CampStove to charge a portable ultrasound and NanoGrid to save that missing kayaker we mentioned. We spoke with Gabriel to learn about his experience in the field and get his advice for withstanding an indoor emergency.

You’ve made the outdoors your office. What is a day in the life of a wilderness medicine and survival expert like?

I’m not a survival expert. I’m probably not an expert in anything yet, but I do spend a lot of time working in a very busy emergency department and teaching wilderness medicine. Thankfully, a lot of what I do is planning with groups before or during a trip. On a trip my state of readiness is always up. Rather than trying to save someone from an emergency situation, I’m trying to prevent it. I move slowly, don’t take unnecessary risks and always keep an eye on the people around me for signs of distress. Not only does this prevent disaster, it means that when disaster takes place, I’m ready for it.

We think you’re being modest. You’re well versed in the fields of emergency and outdoor medicine. We even heard that you used a NanoGrid during a nighttime swift water rescue, tell us more about that.

I was working with a Search & Rescue group in the Sierras when three kayakers went missing. After days of searching, we found the last kayaker across the river from us. I had to ferry the kayaker across a strong current of very cold water. It was very dark, we were all very tired, and didn’t want to lose him. I attached a SiteLight to my life vest and one to the kayaker’s life vest. As we went across the river we were both visible as two separate people moving through the dark and if we got separated we’d still have a light on us. It was great to have lights that illuminate multiple directions and quickly adjust.

(Keep in mind that BioLite’s SiteLights are water-resistant, not waterproof. If you’re planning to take them near the water, consider investing in a dry bag).

Okay, let’s take this inside. Say we are stuck indoors during an emergency, what have you learned from your work outside that can help us prepare?

Here are a few things that my outdoor training has taught me about preparedness indoors.

  • Be in a constant state of readiness

    The work that I do on outdoor trips, in the emergency department and when I prepare my family for an emergency is all about planning. You can’t predict when a natural disaster hits, which means you may not be at home or everything at home may suddenly turn off. If you are already someone who enjoys the outdoors, then you’ve got a leg-up on a lot of people when the Zombie Apocalypse goes down. Same rules apply: keep it together, return to the basics, improvise and adapt.

    Just like having batteries or knowing how to use your stove, a plan is only useful if it works. Officials in New Orleans said there was a plan for a disaster like Katrina, but it sat on a shelf somewhere for a long time. We practice fire drills with our kids. We talk about skills like CPR (or using an AED) or knowing how to call 911. When we get on a plane we ask them where the exits are, how many rows are in front of or behind us. Like keeping up your stove or replacing items in your first aid kit, you need to revisit a plan to make sure it still works.
  • Take advantage of technology
    A benefit to working and playing in a wilderness environment is the brief break those experiences provide from our reliance on technology. It makes you think about what options you might have (or not have, suddenly) if you were to lose electricity at home. That being said, electricity during an emergency is more important than ever before because it powers many tools that become useful in a scary situation. The smartphone has become an incredible tool for survival. During an indoor emergency, you may still be able to use it to coordinate help for yourself or others. You may need a map, light, or a picture or video of a loved one to get you through. You will need electricity for this. The great news is that, if your electricity comes from BioLite, you also have light (historically another major risk factor in psychological survival) and clean water (or popcorn).
  • Dedicate at least one well-lit area

    In a scary situation, light provides a security that is not matched by much else. You may not be able to build a campfire in your home but having a headlamp, flashlight or candles is a critical part of preparation. Don’t waste the little electricity that you do have but when the lights go out, but do make sure that you have a well-lit space.

    I love the BioLite PowerLight because it meets the first criteria of wilderness medicine gear: it must be multi-purpose. The flashlight mode is good for moving through an unknown environment in the dark, and the lantern fills a room. And, of course, it’s also a power bank, which will charge the aforementioned phone. I use the SiteLights to mark a path between resources, or to set up better lighting for evaluation and patient management.
  • Seek out others
    Is going into the wilderness alone a good idea? It’s awesome, but if the universe shifts then you’re in big trouble. Seek out others in a disaster. Maybe you can help them, maybe they can help you. You will all benefit from the psychological support of companionship. If you are alone and stressed out you can become consumed by that anxiety. Give yourself a small project to distract yourself like building a fire or organizing a closet.
  • Create a basic medical plan

    If you have a medical situation on your hands, call for help. If there’s no one around, you have to make one of three decisions: you can try to evaluate and help the person more, you can try to get the person to a place where there is more help, or you can leave the person to get help. If you are that person, then your options are a lot more limited. In both scenarios, keep calm. Don’t excite or agitate the injured person (yourself). Reassure them and carefully try to figure out what’s wrong with them. If it’s bleeding, put pressure on it. If it’s stuck in your body then leave it in for now. If it’s shaped funny, try to straighten it. If there’s no pulse then start chest compressions (no mouth-to-mouth anymore, just hard and fast chest compressions, so try to be sure there really wasn’t a pulse), unless there are a lot of injured people in which case you leave them and go on to someone with a pulse.

    If you are interested in learning more, Gabriel suggests taking a course from the Wilderness Medical Society, NOLS or SOLO.