Practice, plan to be efficient in emergencies

By Cody Powell | Published Saturday, September 29, 2018

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I attended a Chico event called Thunderfest a few weekends ago.

This used to be called Meet the Dragons, but with a new athletic director comes a new logo, culture and catchphrase: Bring the Thunder.

For a while, I thought he was crazy. Dragons don’t have anything to do with thunder. I found out thunder is a family of dragons. That fun fact has nothing to do with why I am writing this column.

While at Thunderfest, I watched the hot-dog eating contest. I had two kids participating in it, and there is nothing like free entertainment.

The idea was simple: eat as many hot dogs as you can in 10 minutes. The competitors were drinking as much water as they were eating hot dogs, which was provided to them in bottles.

As I noticed how my son was drinking water, I started paying attention to everyone else. Almost every person in the contest would put the hot dog down, unscrew the lid to take a drink, then put the lid back on and continue eating. Some would only take a single bite while repeating this same process – bite, put down, un-lid, drink, re-lid, put down and repeat.

This may seem very strange. Why people would spend so much time unscrewing the lid? I knew right away why it was happening, and it fascinated me.

I was able to see in a small detail of everyday life what I have studied and learned for most of my adult life.

Most of the time, people don’t open a bottle of water and leave it open. The advantage of having a lid is it keeps the water from spilling. It’s easy to throw in a bag and will not slosh out of the bottle into the car with the lid on it.

Putting the lid back on the bottle is what is normal. I am sure the competitors didn’t even think about it. But why not? The point was to eat as many hot dogs as possible in the allotted time. Taking the lid off and putting it back on cost time.

Why were they not able to leave the lid off when the time for competition came? As Archilochous said, under pressure “we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

Having spent six years in the Marine Corps, then 12 years in the fire service, muscle memory is not a foreign concept to me. It is a common term among coaches, but I wonder how many people have thought about it in their everyday lives. More importantly, how many people have thought about it in the event of a disaster or emergency? In a flood, wildfire or tornado, what would your muscles remember?

Several months ago I sat in on the after action review in another county of a school that was evacuated due to a grass fire.

This school used the Standard Reunification Method, which has a prebuilt kit for someone to grab on their way out. The presenter stated, “The person who was supposed to grab the kit forgot, but fortunately, it all worked out.”

I remember wondering if that person had ever trained on grabbing the kit. That person gets up every day and grabs their belongings to walk out the door. They may have been told, “This is your job.”

It may seem like a very simple act. But if you have never walked over to that closet and grabbed the box, walked out the door with it and loaded into your vehicle under normal conditions, why would your body remember to do that under stress?

If you have ever been under any type of pressure, you have probably experienced an increase in your heart rate. Depending on the type of pressure, it may have felt as though your heart was beating out of your chest.

If you’ve been in a car accident, you probably have experienced this. As a firefighter, I have seen this many times; arrived on scene of a vehicle accident to find several bystanders standing around one car frantically waving for us to come help the hysterical person who is in the car. They are breathing rapidly and crying uncontrollably.

Something must be terribly wrong! Ten minutes later and some lessons in proper breathing techniques, combined with some kind words, they are signing a patient refusal and calling a friend to pick them up with only minor aches and pains.

What caused the reaction was not a life-altering injury, but stress, a sudden dump of adrenaline and fear. The bodies fight or flight mechanism takes over.

During these situations, the heart rate will increase suddenly.

Lt. Col Dave Grossman has mapped categorized conditions for the various stages of what happens to a person as their heart rate elevates through the conditions. The conditions in order are white, yellow, orange, red, gray and black.

White and yellow are considered normal conditions. In yellow, a person is in relaxed alert.

Orange is when you have identified a threat – hearing a scream, boom of a car accident or smell smoke. Your heart rate becomes elevated. You will not experience any motor or cognitive deterioration.

Red is action time. The heart rate is between 115 and 145 beats per minute. This is when complex motor skills, visual reaction time and cognitive reaction time are at their peak. This is when we start to see deterioration of fine motor skill such as writing.

Gray is where the problems start and the heart rate is between 145 and 175. In this range, people will start to experience tunnel vision and loss of depth perception. Auditory exclusion also occurs and motor skills suffer.

Black is when there is a catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance.

The conditions are not a sliding scale. You will not necessarily work your way through each condition and experience its effects one condition at a time. It is very possible, and more likely, you will jump from one condition to another. Imagine going from condition white to condition gray in an instant, then being expected to make a life or death decision.

The good thing is there is hope, which is what brings us back to the hot dog eating contest. There was one person, Coach Chad Stone, who didn’t uncap and recap the lid after every drink. He won the competition with 17 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

This was a walk in the park for him. He seemed to be able to perform this feat effortlessly. This was also not his first speed eating competition. He had several bottles of water open and ready to go. He had done this before. He was prepared.

Part of being prepared for an emergency is having a plan. If you don’t have a plan, make one. Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

If you don’t know how to make a plan, have no fear. There are many resources to help. Ready.gov and knowhat2do.com are the best places to start. Stop by the Office of Emergency Management. We have handouts for you, as well as a stress ball in the shape of a tornado, to always remind you to think about preparation.

Cody Powell is the Emengercy Management Coordinator for Wise County. September is National Emergency Prepareness month.

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