This week I’d like to go over the FEMA marking system for buildings, searches and victims. Building markings should be made by structural engineers so it’s not something the average person should be putting on to a building, however, knowing what the markings mean will aid you during an emergency situation. The marking system I’ll be reviewing here is the CA OES/FEMA marking system which is very slightly different from the federal FEMA marking system but close enough – and since I’m in California that’s the system I know. Knowing these markings will aid you during a disaster if you are seeking shelter or aiding in search and rescue.
Building Markings are always done where they can be easily seen from the front of the building and not necessarily at the front entrance. The marker will use arrows to point to the safest entry point into the structure or safe haven. The markers must be two feet by two feet so you can see them from a good distance. Building markings look like this:
A building labeled Good will have cosmetic damage, there could be debris without structural damage and the utilities are probably still functional.
A building labeled with a single slash signifies that it has problems and evidence of structural damage. This could mean cracks around the foundation, door and window frames and other structural damage which could need bracing or shoring up. It is a structure which you need to access the risk versus reward to entering the building – get in, do what you need to do and get out because if there is an aftershock the structure may fall.
A box with an X means this structure is in bad shape, it could fall and has structural failure. Do not enter a structure such as this.
Main Entrance Markings start with a single slash /. Later when the search is completed the slash will become an X. Knowing this, at the top of the slash the date and time of search is written, on the left of the X is what team checked it. On the right of the X is what was found I.E. chemicals, etc. At the bottom of the X is if there were victims found.
The X marking system is also used at the entrance to each room or apartment within a building. This way search and rescue teams know which interior rooms have been checked allowing them to pass and know not to waste time on places that have already been checked.
The last important markings are for Victims, there are four marks. If there is a victim trapped under debris and the initial search team is waiting for a recovery team the team will mark the wall with a V and an arrow pointing to the location of the victim. A V with a circle around it means the victim is alive. A victim (V) with a circle around it ( O ) and a single slash ( / ) means the victim is known to be deceased. When the recovery team removes the body they will then create another slash through the circled V creating an X.
The full CA OES/FEMA PDF can be downloaded here: BUILDI~1Rev1
The National Urban Search & Rescue Response System PDF can be downloaded here: usr_23_20080205_rog
In addition to my signature 72 Hour Bag I keep in my car I always carry an EDC bag. This is the bag I carry to work everyday and it has an extra layer of clothes, pens, sunglasses, etc – all the junk you generally use on a day to day basis. Because in the film industry we don’t have a desk or a usual place of work our location and environment changes daily. One day we may be going to work in the morning for a 7am call time and the next day we may be heading out for a 4pm call time and working all night. Because of these variables we never know what the conditions of the days work will bring so it’s a good idea to have a catch all bag capable of sustaining you with little planning or forethought.
In the EDC I have experimented with various containers to hold the essentials to bridge the gap between my ever changing work place and my 72 Hour Bag which can be up to several miles away locked in my car at crew parking. I started out on the Altoids tin bandwagon and crammed some good items in there, I liked the size but felt I wanted a little more versatility. I then went to a Condor Pocket Pouch I got from LA Police Gear but it was always getting hung up on the outside of my bag and wouldn’t ever really fit in an internal pocket of my EDC bag. Also when I would open it things would spill out. Because it had so many pockets I would forget what I had where and inevitably have to dump the entire pouch out to find what I needed anyway.
After a little research I discovered this handy little unit, it’s available at Amazon and goes for about $15. Because it’s metal it will work as a device to boil water in, and it slides in and out of an internal pocket in my EDC easily. Let me walk you through what I keep in here.
You can see things go inside very neat and organized. I took off the top few bandaids so you could see under them.
In this picture I have a ReadyMan Survival Card my buddy gave me, it has a lot of options for saws, hooks and arrowheads all on a flat card. Not sure if it works in the field but its a nice addition, weighs almost nothing and lies flat at the bottom of the tin so I figured what the heck. I also carry Steri Strips instead of sutures because sutures have way too much risk involved in an emergency situation and a Navy SEAL Corpsman buddy of mine says he would use superglue or steri strips any day of the week over taking the time to suture in the field. Note to self, add dental floss and super glue to this kit (I used my last single use tube of super glue during a minor emergency at work and never replaced it). Also, you can see at the top of the picture the P38 can opener I always have one on me.
Below is a picture with some jute for tinder and a tampon which has many uses and you can read that article I wrote here.
Also in the pack I carry an unlubricated condom, which looks like it needs to be switched out and you can read about the uses of a condom in a survival situation here. I carry two large safety pins, a swiss army knife, a 9 volt LED light which is freaking awesome. I got them off Ebay – the one in the link is about $5 but I think I paid about $1 each so if you hunt a little you can find them cheaper.
As you can see I carry two Altoid mini tins to hold smaller items and keep them organized. One caries a whistle my buddy whittled down to its smallest size possible while still being functional – just don’t swallow it. There is also a button compass and some matches, if you look closely I have two brass brads. These are the perfect size to defeat a Master Lock that we commonly use in the film industry. Occasionally we need to get into some locked places where we actually have permission to go but the owner of the lock can’t be contacted to get the combination so instead of destroying the lock we’ll just defeat it. On the top left of the pic I carry the mini leather man squirt tool – it’s actually the driver I use to suture but its small and fits nicely in this kit. Just next to it is my pocket lock pick set and in the Altoids tin at the bottom contains some cotton balls with petroleum jelly in a tiny zip lock baggy and also a supply of my daily meds in case I can’t get home.
So there you have it, that’s the tin I carry on a day to day basis in my EDC.
Something I’ve been interested for a while now is making order out of chaos. I’ve spoken to friends of mine who have been in combat – one a former Navy Seal Medic, and also emergency responders as well as two former homicide detectives. I’ve been working on combining the tips and tricks of what these seasoned professionals do when they are first faced with a traumatic chaotic event. What is the order of how to make sense of things when the shit has hit the fan and how to apply those steps to an event a civilian may face when an earthquake or other natural disaster has hit.
Most of the time the training these people have received is specific and tailored to their specific jobs – there were clear steps each would take. All be it these steps varied widely depending on the scenario there seemed to be a common thread among all of their methods. Each would peel one layer of the onion away at a time. None of them would take a knife an cut to the center. They all made it clear individual steps had to be taken – skipping steps caused harm to either oneself or the injured person or the chain of custody. Skipping steps caused either harm or death of a fellow team mate or bystanders.
The take away from all these conversations was the following:
- Stabilize the Environment – Make sure the structure is safe or stable enough to allow entry. Whether it be an Earthquake or a firefight, the structure you are entering must be taken in phases. Take it in small steps, get through the front door and analyze the threat. Either move on or stabilize this part of the structure then figure out if you can proceed. There are an incredible amount of variables but if you think about each step being a series of ‘Go’ / ‘No Go’ questions you will be able to make progress and get to the injured or the problem. Fools rush in.
- Stabilize any medical needs – Think about the ABC’s. I’ve written previously about the need to change this term to the CAB – Circulation, Airway, Breathing. Especially in a disaster situation bleeding will kill in 30 seconds so stabilizing a bleeding victim is priority one. Tend to the injured ASAP and get them out to a safe location.
- Secure the perimeter – Make sure you get everyone including the non injured to a safe place. Look for faults in structure, downed power lines, vulnerable lines of attack. Turn off utilities – power, gas, water. Again, this area is vast with it’s variables depending on what the specific situation is. If the event was large enough it could be several days or weeks till things begin to normalize so you must know your environment and what it will take to live within it and survive. If you are in a cold climate what will your plan be to keep people warm and sheltered through the night? Knowing in advance how to deal with these things will help you if and when an event happens. Along with securing your perimeter is checking on your neighbors. Are their elderly in the area who might need help? Is the neighbor down the street who always thought prepping was a waste of time hurt or displaced? Unfortunately, no matter how much you’d like to let them realize the hard way they were wrong and you were right – helping them now is the most important thing for securing your perimeter. Happy neighbors along your perimeter will create a buffer zone aid in keeping riff raff at a distance.
- Establish Communications – What are the ways you can communicate? Do you have your HAM radio? Cel phone? Painting SOS on your roof? What ever the lines of communication are, the sooner you can get them up the better. Sending and receiving intel about the event will allow professionals and other members of your family and community to assess the situation enabling them to send assets to the correct location.
- Recover Data – When the situation has stabilized recover data. If it is your home try to recover legal papers, pictures, computers, insurance policies. Hopefully you have organized these in advance and you know exactly where they are so even in rubble you should be able to locate the rough geography in the structure of where they should be.
Many of the people I spoke with had mission specific things they would do, but in the end the common thread which applies to civilians faced with a disaster was those steps. Many times in military or law enforcement situations these people would establish communications ASAP, but for a civilian tending to the injured will become a priority.