DisasterPreparedness A Topic for Us All

Accidents are hard to be anticipated
Just always be prepared

It is often the occurrence of unexpected accidents and disasters then we come to realize the insignificance and vulnerability of human life. Defenseless as we seem, we can always increase our disaster-coping capacity to get prepared for potential emergencies ahead.

Over the years, dedicating ourselves to the humanitarian mission of “Protecting human life, Caring for the health of the vulnerable and Respect human dignity”, the Hong Kong Red Cross (HKRC) has actively engaged in promoting disaster preparedness by offering a variety of first aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training programmes, to better equip the public in dealing with accidents and saving lives in face of emergencies.

Dear Red Cross Supporters:

Time flies without us realising it is just couple months from the end of the year. It truly has been my honour sharing with you encouraging stories of the Hong Kong Red Cross, demonstrating our efforts in educating the public and vulnerable groups about the importance of disaster preparedness.

A city less susceptible to natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, the challenges faced by Hong Kong emerge more frequently in forms of fire outbreaks and traffic accidents – unanticipated events that simply happen, often leaving the community no room to properly react. Indeed, minor as injuries like cuts and sprains, it is exceptionally crucial for us to attain basic disaster preparedness knowledge before accidents ever take place, in order to minimize the loss and damages during the course of events.

In this letter, I wish to walk through with you the inspiring real life experience of Jess, our Red Cross Youth Unit member, who managed to save an old lady’s life with her first aid skills. It will surely demonstrate the significance of disaster preparedness throughout our daily life.

We also value disaster relief services just as much. It is our belief that good preparations and holistic knowledge on disaster-affected regions are key to our capacity in reacting to emergencies of any kind. Therefore, we initiate the Health Emergency Response Unit (HERU) Training Course to provide training on both disasters and life-saving knowledge, ensuring our dedicated team of volunteers are always well-equipped to provide affected communities with timely, effective and appropriate assistance.

I hope that you can read the attached booklet that features the encouraging story of Jess and the insightful sharing from Dr. Kwong Wing-yan, our medical volunteer, to gain a wider understanding into our determination in protecting life through extensive disaster preparedness training to all age groups, as well as prompt disaster relief support at times of emergency.

A life is in your hands - will you still hesitate?

“It was just one of those normal days one would expect. Heading for training at the HKRC Headquarters by bus, never had I thought it’d turn out to be one of the most memorable days in my life.” To Jess, a junior secondary school girl and also a member of the Red Cross Youth Unit, that day she first succeeded in saving a life still seems like yesterday.

Jess was about to get off the bus, when a 80-year-old lady suddenly fell into a faint. Passengers nearby showed their concern, but none of them were capable in offering any proper help.

“I just knew no delay was allowed, therefore I performed first aid without a second thought.” It is hard to relate this girl with a mere age of thirteen by the contrasting sense of confidence and maturity she shows.

“Stabilizing the scene was the first thing that came up to my mind. After informing the driver, I told the passengers to call an ambulance. I also asked some of them to look for an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) machine in the nearby shopping malls to get prepared for the worst.” Jess examined the old lady’s body for one last time before she started to perform first aid. “She was in a deep coma without a pulse, not breathing, indeed as pale as death. There I realized there was no time to lose – I had to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation,” Jess calmly recalled the event.

“It’s indeed my first time performing CPR to a real human instead of a manikin. I guess this is what we call putting theory into practice. I was nervous at first, but also determined because of the situation.”
Bringing together her past training experiences in the Red Cross Junior Unit and Youth Unit, Jess is now in her 6th year of participation in the Uniform Groups, well-equipped with first aid skills to handle different kinds of emergencies.
First aid admits of no delay
Early in her year 2 of junior school study, Jess has already completed the Youth Basic Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (YBCPR) training.

If rationality was the chief cause for the prompt decision-making of Jess, what came second must had been courage. “CPR is a big task. Surely I had practised the steps for many times during class, but those were really rehersals on a manikin. This was literally the first time I applied CPR on an actual person, and I did panic a bit.”

The distrust from the old lady’s son and other passengers also added to the emotional burden of Jess. “They were not convinced a young girl like me could actually save a life. Some spoke really rude words, telling me to walk away and mind my own business.”

It was a very tough decision. To an injured person with no more breathing and pulse, the first four minutes are critical. If the first aider fails to provide timely CPR assistance within this time frame, the injured is very likely to suffer from brain hypoxia due to the lack of oxygen, causing permanent harm to the brain and other organs, or even posing a risk of death.

Knowing they were left with no further solutions, Jess made up her mind. “I talked calmly to her son, explaining we only had two options – either I did it or he did it, or we together witnessed a tragedy no one would want to see. He went silent hearing this, eventually agreeing that I performed CPR for his mother.”

Therefore, bearing in mind what she had learnt in class, Jess carefully located the correct hand position at the tip of the woman’s breastbone, and told her son to help along by giving rescue breaths while she was performing chest compressions. After three rounds of repeating effort, the woman finally regained consciousness after one and a half minutes.

“I felt movements in her fingers, also signs of life on her face. As I listened closer, I was so excited to know she was breathing again.” Finally, the ambulance came to send the rescued old lady to the A&E services for further treatments.

It was not until the old lady boarded the ambulance that Jess was finally relieved. Jess was very grateful that she could save others with the first aid knowledge she had learnt. The encouragement from the old lady’s son in the end also made her more determined in continuing her first aid journey. “He kept thanking me before he left, saying how he had never associated a girl like me with the ability to save a life. But as far as he was impressed, I really did it.”

Saving others, also helping ourselves
The HKRC has been actively providing first aid training courses for uniform group members at different levels , encouraging them to equip themselves with first aid skills for self-help and helping those in need in case of emergencies.

The experience has led Jess to see the true importance of first aid. Indeed, she has long developed a strong interest in the topic as a child under the guidance of her mum, who is also a first aider.

Jess has been participating in the Hong Kong Red Cross Junior Unit since primary school and had applied for beginner courses on basic first aid knowledge. Later when she entered the Youth Units during her secondary school years, she immediately enrolled in the YBCPR course. All these started out as hobby learning, but has made a powerful impact over time and got her equipped with sufficient skills to cope with different kinds of emergencies.

“Not mentioning this incident, first aid is really useful for every day. There was a time when I accidentally hurt my arm during a volleyball class, I was in extreme pain but still not sure if it’s bone fracture or just a sprain. I then told my classmate to bring me a towel and secured the wound in place by myself. Without this kind of common first aid sense, it would have been a tough time following after.”

Jess states that first aid provides her a way to help others, also to build self-confidence and overcome her own weaknesses. “There must be difficulties and challenges along the way. Most important is to know what is right, be determined and make the right decision. Success will find its way to you.”

Immediate assistance in facing natural disasters

No wonder that first aid training can assist us in different outbreaks of daily accidents and disasters, but when it comes to deadly natural hazards like earthquakes and typhoons, who we need is often professional medical staff who are experienced in responding to injuries on a larger scale.

Though Hong Kong is regarded as a blessed land with rare natural disaster occurrences, situations are not as good in adjoining regions like Indonesia, the Philippines and Nepal, or the distant regions of Haiti, Pakistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe, which are highly susceptible to threats of earthquakes, typhoons and flooding. As a joint disaster response strategy of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in dealing with this, the Health Emergency Response Units (HERU) is set up to mobilize qualified and trained personnel to the disaster affected regions at times, providing support including medical care, water, sanitation and telecommunications in accordance with the local needs.

Since adoption of HERU service in 2006, the HKRC has continually recruited medical staff along with professionals of other expertise as volunteers. In 2009, we have introduced the HERU Training Course in Hong Kong for the first time, closely following Japan’s footstep in becoming the second Asian city to ever host the course. Within a total of five training days, medical volunteers attain different operation knowledge such as the setup of a mobile health clinic. Through mock and practical training, members are also equipped with a wider sense of disaster relief methods and safety protection. Already held thrice in Hong Kong to date, the HERU training course has successfully built a team of 60 professional volunteers both locally and internationally, who are put on emergency roster for deployment whenever need arises in face of natural disasters.

“When we were called upon to Nepal in a team of four, the region had already undergone two Magnitude 7 or above earthquakes and over a hundred times of aftershocks. The city was in complete collapse with literally dust and dirt in every breath, not to mention the utterly destructed healthcare facilities. To be honest, that wasn’t my first time visiting backward regions, but definitely the first on encountering a devastated environment like this.”
The damage is far beyond one can imagine
Aside from attending lecture talks by experienced speakers in disaster relief, HERU members also participate in a series of practical drill and simulation exercises such as the setting up of mobile healthcare clinics and receiving patients.
“As long as someone out there is in need and I am able to give a helping hand, I won't hesitate.”

In 2015, following the occurrence of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake which had caused 8,800 deaths upon millions of casualties, a team of 17 medical volunteers was called upon by the HKRC to provide support to the Red Cross at the affected region. Aside from assisting in the operations of local hospitals and clinics, the group also formed a mobile team to provide medical assistance to the affected communities in the remoted villages. Among one of these volunteers was Dr. Kwong, who is now working in the Accident & Emergency (A&E) Department under the Hospital Authority.

A passionate first aider since her secondary school years, Dr. Kwong has contributed herself in supporting humanitarian services for years. Not only has she participated in different international medical humanitarian missions to Cameroon, Ethiopia and Zambia among other less developed countries to perform basic health check services, she even resigned from her job in the A&E Department in 2015 to pursue a study in Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene in Britain, in parallel with her HERU training of the HKRC, to get herself fully prepared for her international humanitarian mission ahead.

Yet, despite her experiences, natural disasters still hit Dr. Kwong in the face with all sorts of difficult challenges. A case in point was her participation in a mission operated by the Japanese Red Cross Society to establish temporary medical stations in the remoted villages of Nepal. “The affected zones were located far away with really limited medical facilities. Number of casualties was way beyond our prediction. Me and another doctor had to take care of an average of 200 or more patients a day. Together with the mounting 45-degree heat and polluted water to cause Gastroenteritis, it really had been a great challenge."

Sometimes, she even had to lead a mobile medical team of 10 into the mountains for medical humanitarian work, when desolated areas and rough roads were all turned into temporary medical stations. Dr. Kwong was convinced that, the HERU training knowledge she learnt prior to her medical humanitarian mission had been extremely useful, skills that could hardly be acquired by just working in hospitals of Hong Kong. “Setting up a temporary medical station was not just about finding a site and building it. We had to take into account patient distribution and safety factors in the design to ensure a smooth relief progress. My team was glad that all the practical drills in class had been of use and it all ended up well.”

Cherish life, as we never know what tomorrow will bring

During nearly a month of medical humanitarian service, Dr. Kwong experienced a vast number of aftershocks. “Everytime an aftershock occured, be it only a mild one, the villagers would scream and run about in a way you could tell they were really terrified. Natural disasters had not only destroyed their homes, but left pain and grief that would forever exist in their hearts.”

As far as she is concerned, rescue and medical support are undoubtedly of prime importance in face of natural disasters, but the post-disaster stages of mental and psychological recovery of the affected communities are equally crucial. It is the rebuilding of confidence that the affected communities can eventually walk out of their trauma and truly move forward. Today, Dr. Kwong has resumed her duty in the A&E Department, bringing with her the precious experiences in humanitarian missions and deep realization that life is short, to help and save more people who are in need.

Are you ready to offer a helping hand?

We sincerely wish that you can answer our call with a donation of 500, 800 or 1,000. Your generous act will not only be of help to the society by allowing more people to acquire disaster preparedness knowledge and give others a helping hand in urgent situations, but also support us in our continual development of more humanitarian services along the way.

Moving forward, I will continue to share the latest updates on our other humanitarian services through my regular letters. If you have any inquiries regarding donation or suggestions on our other service areas, please feel free to contact us by email secretarygeneral@redcross.org.hk or at 2802 0016.

Best regards, Bonnie So Bonnie So Secretary General