How to Handle Outdoor Emergencies

By: Heidi Smith Luedtke

View a PDF of this article from our magazine!

Avoid or respond to outdoor emergencies with these resources.

Hot,sunny days are best spent outdoors. Take the kids swimming. Hike in the woods. Pack a picnic. Take a laid-back approach. But not when it comes to safety.

Emergencies strike without warning. When they do, a swift, smart response is critical. Here’s how to stay safe.


Prolonged exposure to heat can cause a potentially-fatal heat stroke. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, headache, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Infants and athletes are especially susceptible.Dehydration increases risk, because the body can’t cool itself through perspiration. Body temperature can reach 106 degrees.

Dr.Michael Zimring, Director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine LLC at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, says it’s best to stay out of the mid-day sun. Keep hydrated and avoid caffeine, which is a natural diuretic. In an overheating emergency,get the victim into an air-conditioned building or find shade fast.Call 911. Put on a wet shirt to speed cooling. Apply ice packs to the armpits or groin. Monitor body temperature until help arrives.


According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), lightning causes 200 deaths and750 severe injuries each year. Most victims are children and young men. Lightning can strike even when it isn’t raining, and up to 10miles away from a storm. Contrary to popular belief, lightning often hits the same site repeatedly.

Take weather alerts seriously. When a storm is brewing, go inside or get in the car. Rubber tires will not protect you, but you’re safer inside a metal-roofed vehicle than outside. Stay away from trees, fences, electric and light poles and water. If lightning hits someone, call 911. Move the victim if possible. Wait until 30 minutes after lighting ends to go back outside.

Pests and Plants

People who are allergic to insect stings can have life-threatening reactions. The area around the bite may swell and – in rare cases of anaphylaxis – the person may have difficulty breathing,dizziness, hives, swelling of the face, throat, or mouth, or a sharp drop in blood pressure. Pollen-related allergic reactions are usually easier to predict, but allergy-induced asthma can be deadly.

Avoid triggers. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Hike in the middle of the trail where you’re less likely to disturb pests in their nests or touch poison ivy. Use insect repellant with DEET, says Zimring.Severely allergic individuals should also carry an epi-pen, he says,and make sure you know how to use it.


Drowning causes 30% of injury-related deaths in young children, according to Centers for Disease Control data. Most incidents happen in residential pools, but buckets and bathtubs are dangerous, too.Boating emergencies also peak in summer months. Alcohol use and inadequate supervision increase risk.

Supervise kids near water and use approved life preservers: water wings and blow-up toys are not enough. Wear life preservers consistently.Safety equipment can’t protect you if you don’t use it. If you’re boating, stay sober. And head to shore before dark to avoid hitting hazards.

Ina drowning emergency, get the person out quickly. Check for breathing. Use rescue breathing and CPR if needed. If vomiting occurs, turn the victim on their side to prevent choking.

Don’t let the long, lazy days of summer make you vulnerable to outdoor emergencies. Plan ahead. Take precautions. Play safe. And be ready to respond if danger develops. A cool head is the best resource in any crisis.

More Resources:

Stock your travel medicine kit with items from this handy list.

Get weather alerts at so you aren’t caught in a storm

Get detailed info on overheating emergencies from the Centers for Disease Control

Find travel planning advice, info on travel clinics, and practical wisdom how to stay healthy in Healthy Travel: Don’t Travel Without It!By Michael Zimring, MD, and Lisa Iannucci

Author bio: Heidi Smith Luedtke loves scuba diving, camping, and distance running. Follow her blog on leadership skills for parents at


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