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11 Most Common Disaster Injuries [And How To Survive]

We run you through the most common injuries you'll see post-disaster, then tell how you to deal with them to increase your chances of survival.

Disasters come in many forms and, as a result, a wide array of injuries follow.

Whether we’re talking about earthquakes, car wrecks, or riots, there are a few injuries that first responders will see over and over again. 

A well-stocked first-aid kit is essential in a disaster situation.

When these incidents happen, seconds count.

The quicker one is able to administer first aid to their loved ones, the better chance they have of making it through the day in one piece. 

Mountain Man Medical CAT

So we’ve collected some of the most common disaster injuries you might face in a crisis in the hopes that it will help better prepare you.

Before we dive in, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I highly recommend seeking out quality medical training to bolster your skills. And if you’re already injured, seek out a medical professional.

My first aid knowledge is only a couple of steps above this.

Most Common Disaster Injuries

1. Lacerations and Puncture Wounds to the Limbs

The limbs account for somewhere around 64.6% of all wounds during warfare.

Wound Man from The Method of Curing Wounds
Doc. I think I have a problem.

While warfare is different from an earthquake or tornado, there are important crossovers here that can’t be overlooked.

Gunshot wounds, explosions, falls, and fast-moving debris affect the soldier just as they do the civilian during a disaster.

We’ve learned a lot from the battlefield.

As a result, it’s not too far of a stretch to draw a parallel here. Blood loss is one of the leading causes of death in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

A full 90% of battlefield fatalities happen before a medic can arrive on-site and half of these deaths occur from hemorrhage. Of these people who bleed to death, roughly 10% to 15% do so from arm or leg wounds. 

Mountain Man Medical SWAT T Tourniquet
Tourniquets are handy to have

If you can stop a bleed, you have the ability to potentially save a number of lives.

The keys to doing this are threefold — proper training, tourniquets, and compression. Blood clotting agents could also be considered as well. 

Best Tourniquet Coyote Tactical Solutions STOMP Gen 2 and CAT-7 TQ
Best Tourniquet Coyote Tactical Solutions STOMP Gen 2 and CAT-7 TQ

To start with, you need to know what to do. For this, I recommend checking out our article on the Best First Aid Classes. It’s a good starting point to get you into a quality first aid course.

Also, the value of a tourniquet can’t be understated.

tourniquet in action
Marine demonstrating tourniquet application

Israeli battle dressings are the last piece of the puzzle though.

These are fantastic tools that can keep a constant 30 pounds of pressure on a wound until professional medical care can be reached. 

2. Lacerations and Puncture Wounds to the Torso

A metal pipe impaled through somebody’s stomach, a gunshot wound to the lung, a stabbing in the back — these are all common injuries in the aftermath of a disaster.

As I already pointed out, blood loss is a very real threat. 

Treating a simulated sucking chest wound
Don’t worry, it’s a simulated wound for a training exercise.

Any of these scenarios requires prompt professional medical attention. However, there are things you can do in the meantime to help ensure the victim makes it that far.

Knowledge of how to stop a bleed is still vital here. I would further encourage you to seek training on how to apply a Hyfin chest seal

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Should somebody end up with a gunshot wound to the chest or some other form of puncturing of the chest wall, this could help save their life. 

3. Shock

While several types of shock exist, the most severe comes from blood loss. Given that hemorrhage is one of the chief reasons people die during disasters, it follows that shock will be common in such an environment as well. 

Electric Shock
Not electrical shock!

Shock occurs when there’s a lack of blood getting to the organs. If shock isn’t taken care of quickly enough, the result can be death.

If you’re wanting to learn more about how to treat for such, check out the below video.

4. Burns

Fire goes hand-in-hand with disaster. Equipment explodes, bombs go off, and spontaneous fires break out.

On top of this, you have the potential for high-pressure steam scalding people and chemical burns as well. 

Florida Panhandle Fire May 2020 (News Tribune)
Florida Panhandle Fire May 2020 (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

There are a number of treatments available you can use to assist somebody until they can get appropriate help.

Burn gel, burn wraps, and even aloe vera can be used to treat burns. I highly recommend adding some of these treatments to your kits. 

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5. Broken Noses

Out of all the bones in your body, your nose is the most likely to break.

Whether we’re talking about taking a fist to the face, getting thrown onto your face by an explosion, or having a falling brick clip your nose, the nose is liable to have a bad day. 

Broken nose
Broken nose (Photo: User Rls)

There’s not a lot you can do other than keeping the head elevated, using an ice pack, and seeking out a doctor. That ice pack can really help with the pain though.

Please wear gloves if you’re helping somebody with a broken nose. They’re notorious for getting massive amounts of blood everywhere.  

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That’s not a fun way to get yourself sick. 

6. Crushing Syndrome

Gravity isn’t very friendly during disasters of any kind. It brings avalanches downhill and causes buildings to crash to the earth.

In any of these cases, people become crushed under tons of rubble. Some will survive the initial impact but become pinned into place by concrete slabs, boulders, steel beams, or other heavy objects. 

You don’t want to get caught under this. (Photo: Fparrel)

If this amount of pressure stays on the person for long enough, they will develop crushing syndrome where massive amounts of protein leach into the bloodstream by the damaged muscle.

Eventually, this results in kidney failure. 

7. Concussion

Peoples’ heads are prone to all sorts of injuries.

And during a disaster, you might suffer a number of things that could result in a head injury — falling down a stairwell, hit in the head with bricks, and concussive blasts from explosions. 

Doctor treating Marine with concussion
A doctor treating a Marine with a concussion

One of the consequences of such can be a concussion — when the brain is injured by a sudden blow or jolt. Most people fully recover from these, but the immediate aftermath is one filled with brutal headaches, mental fog, dizziness, and potentially blurred vision

Like everything else on this list, your best bet is to get these people to appropriate care as quickly as possible. 

8. Drowning

If you experience any kind of water-based disaster, this is going to be one of the chief injuries that you see.

2011 Tsunami in Japan
A wave approaches Miyako City from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 11, 2011. (Photo: iEARN-USA)

The best help you can offer is to get people out of the water fast and perform prompt CPR.

I recommend signing up for a Red Cross or American Heart Association CPR course. For a quick crash course, check out the below video:

Also, PPT Editor Jacki suggests keeping a CPR mask or face shield on your keyring to protect yourself while performing CPR. Check out our round-up of the Best CPR Face Shields.

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9. Infection

Dirt, lack of sterile dressings, and lack of medical care can all lead to infection.

Pain, redness, warmth, and swelling are the main things to keep an eye out for here if you have a wound during any type of disaster situation. 

DIY First Aid Kit Neosporin
A little Neosporin goes a long way.

Thankfully, there are items you can carry in your EDC, IFAK, or medical kits that will help ward off infection.

I’m a big fan of Neosporin for fighting against infection of the little stuff (e.g. small cuts and abrasions), though if you’re allergic, Polysporin is an alternative. 

10. Hypothermia

Disasters often leave people without shelter and at the mercy of the elements. Furthermore, some injuries — such as burns — leave a person more susceptible to the cold.

It’s because of all this that hypothermia is a very real threat to people, even in the summer. 

Hypothermia wrap
Hypothermia wrap

With the perfect cocktail of miserable weather, cotton clothing, and injury, hypothermia can easily set in on a large portion of disaster survivors.

A couple of space blankets kept in your medkit can easily make the difference between life or death for people in such an event. 

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11. Cardiac Arrest

Whether it’s from a heart attack, electrocution, hard impact to the heart, drowning, or something else, cardiac arrest can be a huge problem post-disaster.

Proper CPR training is a must for this. It’s an incredibly easy-to-learn skill, and it’s used on a daily basis to save lives. 

CPR chest compressions
CPR (Credit: Bangkok Hospital Phuket)

Again, find a local Red Cross or American Heart Association course, sign up, and learn this skill.

It’s one of the most important medical skills you can have. 

Final Thoughts

Disasters are serious business that results in the injury or death of those caught in the path.

However, you can very easily make a difference in somebody’s life by seeking out quality training and investing in a few versatile pieces of equipment. 

Family Emergency Plan
Good plan.

Prepping food, water, and ammo makes sense…but don’t neglect to prep your medical supplies as well.

To read more on disaster specific survival, check out some of our articles below:

Any other injuries you believe should be added to the list? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to dive further into survival, make sure to check out our Survival & Prepping Guide.

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    A great resource: deployedmedicine dot com

    March 7, 2023 8:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    Good review of the most likely injuries found in an around disasters, and their treatment. Yes, Training is essential as some treatments have changed from the Protocols of 40 years ago. I urge people to take at least the EMT Basic training. Because it's more intense than the old Red Cross Advanced First Aid classes offered many moon's ago. Check your local hospital or Community College to see if the class is offered, it's well worth the investment in both time and money,, and who knows, may lead to a second career, especially for someone in a rural setting, as it's typically a volunteer EMS Squad.

    We don't know what we'll face in the future. An Attack, Economic Collapse, Breakdown of Civil Autbority or any number of possible threats or combination thereof. So if one has any interest in surviving what's to come, one best prepare for the worst case scenario. The life you save, may very well be your own or someone near and dear to you.

    CPR is a valuable First Aid Tool, but in a disaster, if secondary care is unavailable. There's questions about employing the tool.. The real and actual statistics are not very promising. Outside a clinical setting, CPR is effective only 12% of the time in a witnessed arrest. In a clinical setting, it's effective 40% of the time in a witnessed arrest. Better, but it's not as Hollywood portrays it. In unwitnessed arrests (when you don't know how long they've been down, the odds are even smaller.

    It's a discussion we've had many times in the various groups I belong to. Opinions are all over the place on the subject. I leave it at think twice before you start CPR, because once you've started, you're committed to continue until their heart starts, more advanced help arrives, or you collapse from exhaustion.

    Good write up Aden.

    March 7, 2023 7:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Good article, especially the reminder to get the necessary training . What most people don't realize about training is that along with new skills you also have less chance of panicking. Yeah you're still going to have a major adrenaline dump but your brain is saying I've seen this before, I can do this.

    December 1, 2021 6:02 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks, Mike. I'm glad you liked it. We fall back to the level of our training, you're totally right.

      December 2, 2021 9:00 am
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