Probably the biggest source of confusion during a rescue diver course is the creation of an emergency assistance plan. Students aren't sure how much or how little to include. They aren't sure they did it right when it doesn't take a long time. This article is meant to clear up these problems.
First of all, I'm going to say that creating an assistance action plan should not be a terribly difficult exercise, especially in the internet age. There are a few key components that should be included along with a few optional items. Finding this information these days should be a breeze. Before we get into what exactly to include, let's discuss the purpose of an emergency assistance plan. This should illuminate exactly what is required to construct a complete plan.
The purpose of an assistance plan is simple: in the case of an emergency, an emergency assistance plan should assist an uninformed bystander in contacting emergency services and getting them to the location of the accident. Right away this should clue you in on what's required. In fact, putting too much information will only slow things down during an emergency situation.
In general, there doesn't have to be too much detail in an emergency plan. However, courses usually require plans for a specific dive site. This is probably an additional source of uncertainty. If in doubt, just ask your instructor how specific everything should be. Additionally, consult your textbook for any insights it may offer.^1^ Though it never hurts to put in too much information, at least for the sake of fulfilling a course requirement.
What's in it?
Now we know what the overall purpose of the plan is, but what exactly do we put in it? This is what everyone wants to know. After considering the purpose, we can ask some questions to discover what should be in this elusive little document.
If a diving emergency was taking place around you, what information would you need to be of some assistance? Clearly, we need some sort of contact information for the local emergency services. In particular, we want scuba-related contacts. If your diving locale has an emergency hotline dedicated to scuba emergencies, include that as well as general emergency numbers.^2^ Look up the local Divers Alert Network (DAN) for their contact information.
This information (local EMS plus any scuba-related EMS) is the core of your emergency assistance plan. You can't get away with less. There is, however, plenty more you could include for absolute completeness. What other information could be useful during an emergency?
Sometimes it may be faster to transport the injured yourself. For this reason, I like to include the location of the nearest hospital, possibly with a map or directions. A contact number for the emergency room is also good, to alert staff that you are on your way with an injured diver.
The location of nearby emergency equipment is also pertinent. This includes things like emergency oxygen and first aid kits. Often, EMS may take a while to arrive, costing your victim precious minutes. Being able to help in the meantime by administering oxygen or basic life support could be the difference between life and death. You may know where the oxygen tank is, but if you're busy giving rescue breaths, you want someone else to be able to retrieve it.
Depending on where you are diving, the location of the nearest telephone may be useful. Imagine if a foreigner was responsible for contacting emergency services after an accident. They have your emergency assistance plan, but no local mobile phone. It could be when you handed them your plan you told them to use your phone, but if diving remotely this may not always be a possibility. It's location-specific, and definitely something to think about, but not required.
My rescue instructor was fairly stringent and required that I include a script for someone to read when calling emergency services. The key parts of this script are your location (not just the dive site name, but where it actually is), and that this is a scuba diving related emergency. This bit of information could change the reaction of emergency services on the other end. For instance, they may realize that a decompression chamber is needed and avoid hospitals that aren't equipped to handle decompression sickness, saving valuable time.
Another optional item is a map of your diving location that identifies all the important landmarks nearby, such as the emergency equipment, telephones, and even the hospital. This diagram of the dive site could be useful in an emergency, but is usually not required. If your instructor doesn't request it, you can still include it for brownie points.
To save you some time, I created a free emergency assistance plan template. Fill out as much or as little as you (and your instructor) think is necessary, replacing the text inside the \<brackets>. Delete the rest. Click the following links for the format of your choice:
My hope is that this article (and the templates) take some of the mystique out of creating an emergency assistance plan. This is something you'll probably only have to do twice during all your training (for rescue diver and for divemaster), but it is good to know the thinking behind it's construction and the overall purpose it serves.
Time to help me out. Is there anything critical I left out that should be in an emergency assistance plan? Let me know in the comments.
1. I can't say for other agencies, but the PADI rescue diver
manual is nearly useless for information about creating an emergency
2. Funny story. I did my rescue diver course in New Zealand. For my assistance plan, I wanted to include the telephone number for a local hospital. I found the hospital, looked the number up online, and put it in my plan. During the course, everyone except me noticed something wrong with the hospital's number, +44 xxx-xxxx. Turns out the hospital was part of a UK conglomerate, and the number I found was for their main London hospital. Being a dumb American, I put the phone number with the UK country code for my New Zealand dive plan. Go me.