Tagged: Trauma

CA OES/FEMA Marking System

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:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.02.18 AM

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.  Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.18.15 AM

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. Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.12 AM

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

Immediately After…

In getting back to the roots of this blog I want to review what to do after an earthquake. No one can really say when the big one will hit Southern California, and perhaps this is a regional issue, but I think many tips can be drawn from the post earthquake response and apply them to other natural disasters.


  1. Make sure you have your shoes on!
  2. You need to check yourself and others for injuries. Provide aid immediately to anyone who needs it. Stopping bleeding is the most important thing. A person will bleed out arterially in 30 seconds while most people can go into the four minute mark without oxygen, so the priority is Bleeding, Airway, Circulation. Spinal injuries are a big mystery these days. It used to be standard practice to immobilize the victim before moving them, but new research has come out that all the immobilization we had been doing is just wasting time in getting the victim to the hospital – which is more important. Why am I saying this? I am not a medical professional but if a persons life is in danger and you suspect a spinal injury the first priority should be getting them to a safe area. If they die lying where they are then it doesn’t matter that they would’ve been paralyzed… they’re dead. After you have stabilized your dwelling, check on any elderly neighbors.
  3. Check utilities. Make sure the gas line is shut off, especially if you suspect a broken line. If you smell gas open all windows and doors and turn off the main breaker to your house. After shutting off the main breaker then turn every smaller breaker OFF. This way when you feel it is safe to turn power back on you can do so slowly and by one circuit at a time, making sure there isn’t any damage. Remember to use all your senses, look, smell, touch. Yes, touch feel the surface of plugs and switches for heat – if there’s heat then there might be a short which will lead to fire. Mark the device, turn off that breaker and move to the next circuit. Later, when the power is still off on that circuit and you have the time check the wiring inside the device. I recommend turning off the water supply to your house immediately, this way if there is damage down the line the tainted water won’t enter your pipes and any reserve you have left in your pipes and water heater will still be potable.
  4. Check your structure for damage. If doorways look out of square or the roofline looks off you may need to think about creating an emergency shelter, make sure you inspect the chimney – it is a structure which goes from the living space all the way through the structure and if damaged can cause serious injury or death if it falls in an after shock. In addition you may need to create a makeshift rest room in the back yard.
  5. Begin to get your emergency supplies in order – you have your earthquake kit in a safe place right? Access all your canned goods and items from the fridge and freezer, use frozen items immediately, then fridge items, then canned goods. Get your drinking water supply in order quickly – people need at least 1 gallon per person per day. Most water heaters are 32 gallons, use this as drinking water only – do not waste this resource on cleaning. When that water is exhausted, use bleach to purify water, 16 drops per gallon. Before adding bleach to dirty water use a bandanna to strain the water and try to get it as clear as possible first.
  6. When opening doors and cupboards, do so slowly – items have moved and a can of peaches can hit your head harder than an 8 year old swinging a bat during T ball practice.
  7. Do not go out sightseeing, use your vehicle only for emergencies, do not spread rumors – only report factual information you have witnessed by eye. Rumors can lead emergency personnel on wild goose chases wasting valuable assets.
  8. Check to see if your land line works – the land line will still be the most reliable form of communication because of the redundancy in the system. Land lines operate on 52 volts DC and are separated from the power grid. If you have a dial tone then great – only use it in an emergency. If you need to get in touch with family do so first by trying to send a text. It’s a short burst of information and attempt to get the message to one family member out of state first who then can notify the rest of your family from their communications center. This way you are not tying up a limited stressed out communications network telling Aunt Sally that it was scary, but you’re okay.
  9. Turn on your radio to get information and learn what the extent of the damage to the community is.





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.