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Emergency Preparedness

The medical assistant should be knowledgeable in the area of emergency preparedness. This includes knowing how to respond in the event of a manmade disaster, such as a terrorist event, and to a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.


Because earthquakes can happen at any time, and without any warning, the medical assistant should know how to respond to this type of emergency. One of the first steps to preventing injury during an earthquake is to prepare before an earthquake happens.Advance preparation may save lives as well as prevent injuries.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are six steps involved in planning ahead for an earthquake. These steps are:

  1. Check for hazards around the facility.
  2. Identify safe places both indoors and outdoors.
  3. Educate yourself and your co-workers.
  4. Have disaster supplies on hand.
  5. Develop an emergency communication plan.
  6. Help your community get ready.

Because more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 25,000 are injured in fires each year, the medical assistant should be prepared to respond to this type of disaster. Fire spreads quickly, and there is typically no time to gather belongings or make a telephone call. In just 2 minutes, a fire can become life-threatening, and in 5 minutes a fire can engulf a building. Heat and smoke from fire are often more dangerous than the flames.

The medical office should be equipped with properly working smoke alarms. These should be placed on every level of the building on the ceiling or high on the walls. Every room of the office should be equipped with a smoke detector, and each should be tested and cleaned once per month. The batteries should be replaced at least once per year and every smoke alarm should be replaced once every ten years.

The medical assistant should know the escape routes to use in the event of a fire. Staff members should practice those escape routes. If the office is located above the first level, escape ladders may be used.

Any flammable items must be stored in well-ventilated areas, and care must be taken in placing any items near a heat source or heating vent. Any defective wiring must be repaired to avoid a fire hazard. Fire extinguishers should be located throughout the office and staff should be trained in their use.

During a fire, the medical assistant should be aware that if a person’s clothes are on fire, that person should stop, drop, and roll until the fire is extinguished. Running makes the fire burn faster.

In order to escape a fire, the medical assistant should check closed doors for heat before opening. This is done by using the back of the hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and the door frame before opening the door. If the door is hot, it should not be opened, and another route of escape should be sought. If the door is cool, it should be opened slowly.

When escaping a fire, the medical assistant should crawl low under any smoke on the way to the exit and close doors as they are passed through to delay the spread of fire. Once out of the building, the medical assistant should not attempt to reenter until or unless the fire department declares that action to be safe.


FEMA declares floods to be the most common hazard in the United States. Some floods can develop over days of rainy weather; others may be in the form of flash floods and may come on very quickly. The medical assistant should be aware of the flood dangers that exist in his or her local area.

During a flood, the medical assistant should listen to the radio for information. In the event of a flash flood, the MA should move to higher ground. If there is time before evacuating, the medical assistant should be sure to disconnect any electrical equipment and shut off utilities at their main valve.

When evacuating, the medical assistant should be careful not to walk through moving water. Only six inches of moving water can make a person fall.


Hurricanes can strike with little warning, although most will allow for some advance warning, giving the medical office staff time to prepare. If the office is in the path of the hurricane, the windows may need to be secured. This can be done using plywood. Trees and shrubs around the office should be well trimmed.

If the medical office is to be evacuated before a hurricane, the medical assistant should listen to the radio or television for information provided by local emergency management personnel.

During the hurricane, the medical assistant should listen to the radio or television for information and prepare for high winds and possible flooding.


In the event of a terrorist attack, the medical assistant should be aware of the steps to take in each of the following types of emergencies.


In the event of a bomb threat, the medical assistant should try to obtain as much information from the caller as possible. The following questions should be asked.

  1. When is the bomb going to explode?
  2. Where is the bomb right now?
  3. What does it look like?
  4. What kind of bomb is it?
  5. What will cause it to explode?

This information should be immediately provided to the police, and their directions should be followed. If an explosion has occurred, the medical assistant should respond by following the steps as if an earthquake and/or fire has happened.

Biological Threats

There are four methods of delivery of a biological agent:

  1. Aerosols—agents are dispersed into the air, forming a mist that may drift for miles.
  2. Animals—some diseases are spread by insects or animals.
  3. Food and water contamination—some agents are placed in the food or water supply.
  4. Person-to-person—some spread of agents is possible via direct contact between people.

In order to prepare for a biological attack, the medical facility may have a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter installed.

In the event of a biological attack, the medical assistant should be prepared to move away quickly, wash with soap and water, contact authorities, listen to the radio for instructions, and remove and bag clothing if contaminated.

Nuclear Blast

In the event of a nuclear attack, the medical assistant should take cover as quickly as possible, below ground if the building has a basement. The medical assistant should remain in a safe location, listening to the radio for instructions. The medical assistant should not look at the flash or fireball, lie flat on the ground with the head covered, and seek shelter as quickly as possible.

Mock-Environmental Exposures

Medical assistants can play a vital role in the event of an environmental emergency. It is helpful to be prepared for such events by understanding how to help victims and providing assistance to other healthcare providers.

Organizations within the community, colleges, and hospitals may offer mock-environmental exposure events. These events provide real-life scenarios and situations that may arise during times of disaster. Scenarios of mock-environmental events may include a tornado site with injured victims, an exposure to a biological chemical, or treating injured victims of flash floods or hurricanes. The role of the medical assistant will vary in every situation; however, overall,MAs may be able to provide assistance by:

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