Disaster, Cold Weather and Hypothermia

man in hypothermia on a white background.The Disaster Podcast team takes on hypothermia in disaster situations. What are the concerns for both rescuers and patients in cold weather rescue situations? We’ll address that in this episode. Joining podcast hosts Jamie Davis, the Podmedic and Sam Bradley is Dr. Joe Holley from the Paragon Medical Education Group and Tennessee Task Force One.

Jamie and Sam Ask Dr. Joe about the specific concerns for USAR and other deployed rescuers in cold weather and also about the pathophysiology of hypothermia.

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Victims of hypothermia are often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.; and (4) people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Got a question for the Disaster Podcast Team? Why don’t you leave a comment below here on the site and we’ll get right back to you both in the comments area and by email, too! We look forward to hearing from you. The first 10 respondents will be entered in a draw to win a very special survival knife.

Again, a special thank-you to Paragon Medical Education Group for their continued support of this podcast as our partners in this endeavor to bring disaster medicine to you. We thank shootingauthority.com for the info on survival gear and their statistics, check out their page and educational resources that can help your system be more prepared for what happens in your area.


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7 Replies to “Disaster, Cold Weather and Hypothermia”

  1. Jake

    First, a confession: I’m not an EMT, USAR team member, firefighter, or any other form of emergency responder or medical profesisonal. I listen to this podcast purely for educational value, and feel like I have learned a lot about how emergency services respond to disasters, and really appreciate the thorough and thoughtful discussions you all have.

    This leads me to my question – In this episode, you talked a bit about how your average person is sadly unprepared for disasters. As a medical professional and emergency responder, what do you think the rest of us can do to minimize our dependence on emergency services in times of crisis? Personally, I try to have a small (7-day or so) supply of bottled water and nonperishable food items, and a small first-aid kit (primarily focused on hemorrhage control) that should allow me to help myself or someone else until the real professionals can get there, but what other kinds of things can I do to be prepared for an emergency? What are the most common issues you see in mass-casualty incidents that could be mediated or even solved with basic over-the-counter or off-the-store-shelf supplies by someone with a minimal amount of training?

    • Doc Holley

      Hi Jake,
      Thanks so much for listening, and especially for engaging us in a great question! Professional responders spend significant amounts of time dealing with those who are not prepared. You’re definitely on the right track with your current preparations. Jamie’s suggested a great resource, but much of the issues with disaster preparedness surround communication, and our loss of it when disaster strikes. So having some prearranged plans makes a huge difference. For example, where will the family meet of the house catches fire and everyone escapes via a different route? Meeting at the mailbox might prevent a dangerous re-entry into the house to find someone who’s already safe.
      In addition, a supply of medications, glasses, hearing aids, batteries are essential. Basic tools such as a can opener/pocket knife/whistle (or noise maker of some kind) can be invaluable. as can a small amount of cash and ID.
      Dont forget your pets!

      Put it all in a waterproof box that you can easily and quickly access, and you’ll be miles ahead of the pack.

      And if you’re really hardcore, maybe a foley catheter! 😉

  2. jamie

    Jake, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you are learning something from the podcast and our discussions. The best way to know what to have on hand for your disaster planning kit as a minimum is to use the list you’ll find at http://Ready.gov. We’ll talk about it some more on the show in a future episode in answer to your question but that really is the gold standard for where you should start. Keep in touch and let us know what you’d like to see more of in a future episode!

  3. Sam Bradley


    I’m really glad you’re getting something positive from the podcasts. We try to include material useful to everyone not just disaster workers or EMS professionals. I wish everyone thought like you in terms of preparedness. The reality is, in a disaster, we in EMS will be hard pressed to get to you when we’ll have our own issues along with an unmanageable call load.

    What other kinds of things can I do to be prepared for an emergency?

    Take a basic or advanced first aid class. You might even be interested in a CERT (Citizen’s Emergency Response Team). This is for non professionals and teaches you everything you need to know for managing the early stages of a disaster to help yourself and others. This includes first aid, disaster supplies, a few search and rescue techniques, disaster management techniques, etc.

    What are the most common issues you see in mass-casualty incidents that could be mediated or even solved with basic over-the-counter or off-the-store-shelf supplies by someone with a minimal amount of training?

    First of all, know as much what not to do as what to do. Here in earthquake country people jump out of bed in the middle of the night with no shoes and get cut with broken glass. Also, a rule of thumb is, if you’re not involved or aren’t helping, then don’t get in the way of rescue efforts. It’s hard to us to sift through who’s a patient and who’s not after a big traffic collision. When people do need help (especially with something like bleeding control), most people won’t get involved for fear of exposure to disease. It can save a life. Carry some disposable latex or nitrile gloves and you’ll be protected (along with your first aid kit, of course). On that note, always carry emergency supplies in your car, especially in winter: water, extra blankets, emergency lighting so people can find you, food that will keep like MREs, rope, first aid supplies etc. You just never know.

    These are off the top of my head. You’ve got me thinking now. I agree with Jamie. We could devote a whole show to this. I think we should.

    Oh yeah, and always have a foley catheter. I’ll let Dr. Joe explain that one.


  4. Jake

    Thanks for the replies! There’s plenty of good information there, and will give me food for thought over the next few months. I can already see a few shortcomings in the preparations I’ve made, so I’ll get to working on them.

    I’ll keep listening, and I’d love to hear a show on this kind of thing – There’s a whole “prepper” community these days, and I’d be interested to hear what emergency response professionals think is useful and what goes overboard.

  5. Sam Bradley

    Well guess what, Jake? Jamie and I recorded that show yesterday. When it comes up, let me know if we missed anything. I think we addressed all your questions.


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