Let’s talk about the importance of having identification with you. Should you bring your wallet or ID bracelet? What might you need if things go really bad? Let’s look at this important question, do your research, and ensure you are equipped for your potential emergencies
Picture one of the following four scenarios:
You are out cycling, running, hiking, kayaking, walking the dog, …, and have a bad fall, crash, or get hit by something. You are quite injured, unconscious, or much worse. Someone or emergency crews find you but they cannot determine your identity or figure out whom to call in terms of emergency assistance or health coverage.
You are quite injured and are able to call for an ambulance or rescue, or someone assists you in getting to a hospital. Only problem is you have no ID, credit card or vital healthcare identification to show who you are.
You have the child from another family with you for an outing or your child joins another family for an outing or camping trip, and the child has a serious injury and needs urgent medical assistance or treatment. Unfortunately, there is no way of identifying who that child is or proving to health authorities that that child has medical coverage.
You are doing one of those activities in a group and one of the lesser known group members is badly injured (or killed) or perhaps it’s a complete stranger you find while out there. You feel you can help but have no idea who this person is, you have no way of proving who this person is, and you have no way of providing that person’s key medical information or health coverage details.
Is there an example of the above that you can you provide in the Comments section below? What did you learn from that incident?
(For privacy reasons, please do not provide any identifying details if it is not you or involves others.)
This can be a terrible situation and delays to your care could be life threatening. In some countries, first responders or hospitals won’t even help you until they have clarity about who you are and/or if you have coverage to pay for the cost of assisting you.
Here at Better Preparedness, an important element we focus on is trying to eliminate many of the little risks in life that can have serious consequences. How infringing on your life is it to have with you some form of ID, perhaps your healthcare information, and some emergency contact names and phone numbers to guide a kind bystander trying to help you?
Real life examples
In addition to my work in Emergency Management with my clients and my love of the outdoors, I used to be a volunteer fire fighter. Sadly, in my fire fighting years, we had a number of car crashes, many of them with catastrophic consequences by the time the incident was called in to 911 (the emergency phone number for most of North America) and our crews were on the scene. It was vital for us to be able to identify to the responding police and ambulance crews who the victims were. This is the same for any time first responders find someone, for example in a park, at a sporting event, a terrorist incident, in the wilderness,… Imagine a first responder trying to care for you but not having any idea as to who you are, where you are from, whom to call, … ?
A recent incident during a trail running race
Also, a prime example is a trail running race I did just two days ago here in South Africa. I am not South African, so right off the bat, it can become complicated if I have a serious incident. In the very rough terrain, I tripped and felt hitting my head quite hard on the ground. Fortunately where my head hit was into the dirt and not the big rocks left and right of where I hit. Hitting those rocks would have caused injuries far worse than cuts to my face and a very black eye. Albeit a bit stunned, I was able to get back up and continue my race. I did have an emergency information bracelet on my wrist along with ID and emergency information in my trail running backpack and I was happy that had my head hit one of those rocks, I would have been easy to identify and the same for my emergency contacts.
What can you do to reduce your risks of being delayed or denied critical emergency assistance?
Firstly, you need to consider the legal obligations regarding identification where you are situated. By law, most countries require an adult to be able to provide identification. Do your research and ensure you are covered.
There are three examples of identification and again, make sure you do your research or check with authorities whether your approach will be accepted:
- Nothing beats the real thing such as your national identity card, driver’s license, and health card, etc…
- Colour photos of those key documents on your phone
- Colour photos copies of those key documents in a plastic baggy to protect them from rain and sweat
- Wrist band with lines of important emergency information
I will admit that every time I take those hard-to-replace cards or identification out of my wallet, I am worried about loosing them, about them going through the laundry machine’s wash cycle, or forgetting to transfer them from my running belt or cycling jersey back into my wallet. I get it. It can be a hassle and a worry, and as a result, many of us can frequently leave home without those critical documents or information.
What options do we have?
Carry the real thing
I will try to always bring the real ones with me but I am sometimes worried about loosing then or if I get mugged. Make sure you also have a paper with your important emergency contacts and any important information required to assist you.
Photos on your phone of your ID, health card and other key emergency information thing
This is an option although it will likely not satisfy many law enforcement personnel and it has the drawback that if you are not conscious, you won’t be able to turn on your phone and find the photos of this key ID and health cards. Make sure you also have a paper with your important emergency contacts and any important information required to assist you.
While nothing beats having the real thing, for years, I have adopted the practice of at least having a plastic baggy (Ziplock style) that contains a clear colour photocopy of my ID, my spouse’s ID (with it written on the photocopy what her relation is), her business card, my healthcare contact information, and a small piece of paper with my important emergency contact names and phone numbers. I’ll include a bit of emergency money. With all those copies cut out, it barely takes up any bulk whatsoever.
Again, while nothing replaces having the real ID card(s) my feeling is that at minimum, what I am carrying enough to show:
- Who I am (and perhaps my home address but I understand the security risk element of that information getting into the wrong hands if I loose the plastic baggy)
- Who needs to be contacted and in what order of priority
- How I am covered
- Consider having multiple sets of these copies so you can always grad a set when going out the door.
Identity wrist bands or bracelets
In decades of attending race expos at running marathons or cycling events, I had always seen vendors selling wrist bands that have a small metal band with critical emergency information listed in small print. (I will admit that I thought of them as a bit of fear mongering or just a money-making adventure!) A cycling club I joined two years ago produced one of these emergency information wrist bands for all its new members and have become a firm believer in them.
My wrist band was surprisingly comfortable even when wearing it on long training rides and surprisingly also even for long runs or hiking. I just leave the wrist band connected to my bike helmet strap to avoid loosing it and therefore always know where it is.
What information does this wrist band display? It can have up to six short lines of information! Mine has:
- My name and number
- My spouse’s name and phone number
- My employer and the emergency contact information
- And that I have no allergies
My hope is that if I have terrible incident and perhaps my wallet is stolen off of me, hopefully my very simple looking wrist band will be enough to establish who I am, and enough very basic emergency contact information is listed so as to help whomever is kindly trying to assist me to assist me. And as a bonus, if something happens to me, my phone is stolen or lost, and I struggle to remember my key emergency phone numbers, they’re printed on my wrist band!
I’ve been meaning to obtain some of these wrist bands for my children since we live abroad and we are often in the wilderness or travelling. Yes, we can insist that our children remember some key phone number but in a crisis, everyone can struggle to think properly and time is of the essence. I will order them this evening once my kids have chosen the colour of band they’d like to have.
Ever since starting to wear one for outdoors activities, I’ve been a real believer in the value of these ID wrist bands.
Wait, think about how your emergency contacts need to assist or how your activity partner should help you!
Let’s say one of your friends or a friend of the family is identified in your emergency papers as the person who can help you. Give some thought and provide them written details of how they should help you. It’s great if Bob has been identified as a person who can assist if you are found unconscious (or worse!) from being hit by a car, but imagine if the responders find you and start asking Bob questions about how you should be helped or for Bob to clarify what your medical coverage is. Imagine if Bob did not have that or any information on how you want to be assisted? Now what? Think through how your loved ones or friends while assist you.
If you are member of an outdoors or sporting club, help them be better prepared
If you are a member of some sort of training club or outdoor activity, talk with the organizers and ask them to ensure that outings are made safer by the group members having access to people’s emergency contact information.
I often go cycling with a club and we can be hours away from the city and in pretty remote locations. If something serious happens to me, how will the other group members assist me? At a minimum, if the group can access a list of emergency contact names and numbers for each member, they have someone to contact and get further care instructions or care details.
What’s it like when you are able to assist someone?
Many years before the current millennium while still in high school, I used to go night downhill skiing near Ottawa, Canada. There was a city bus that would take skiers from downtown Ottawa to one of the local ski hills. It was fun although the temperatures at night could be so ridiculously cold! A schoolmate I was just getting to know joined me one time. I knew his name and only his landline phone number. (This was before mobile phones.)
It was a great night of skiing and easy ski conditions. After a bunch of ski runs, we were descending one ski slope when a skier, who had gone into the woods to the left of us, suddenly came out of the woods and bumped into my friend throwing my friend completely off-balance. In an era long before helmets were a consideration for recreational downhill skiing, my friend ended up veering into and hit a rather massive and unpadded chairlift poll on the side of the ski run. My friend hit the poll head first was knocked out immediately, suffered serious face injuries, and lay motionless in the snow. We were halfway up the ski run. This was years before I took a 1st Aid course and while I did my best to stabilize my friend, a kind bystander quickly skied down to notify the ski patrol personnel. They quickly brought up a spinal injury board by snow mobile, strapped my motionless friend to the board, and brought him down the hill.
What made the difference that night?
I knew very little about this new friend but the saving grace was that I knew his first and last name, and his home phone number. The fact that I knew his phone number meant that I was able to call and reach his mother from the ski patrol office while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. As a teenager, it was very emotionally tough speaking to his mother for the first time, introducing myself by phone as the friend her son was skiing with, and advising her that her son was in a coma with serious facial injuries, strapped to a spinal board, and about to be transported to a particular hospital for critical care.
Luckily I had had just enough information to reach a key member of his family and his Mom was able to rush to the trauma center my friend and I were being taken to. His Mom was able to bring his identification and their family healthcard. She was able to take over from me at the hospital emergency department waiting room and I took various city buses while carrying all my ski equipment to get home from that hospital.
Much to all of our relief, after a few days in a coma care, plastic surgery to his face, he awoke from his coma and amazingly made a full recovery. (I should note that the ski hill also then padded the few unprotected lift poles it still had. Also, modern usage of ski helmets would probably lessened the damaged to just a serious concussion rather than a coma and likely spared him the facial injuries.)
Imagine that scenario without that key emergency information!
What would I or anyone else have done had a key member of his family not been known or reachable? It’s great that most people on the planet now have mobile phones but that often means we have only one phone number for a person and no numbers for a loved-on or family member.
Think through potential scenarios of incident to yourself, someone finding you, or you finding a stranger. How do you want to be assisted, by whom and how will that person be reached? What critical identification is needed for you to receive care or critical health information needs to be clear regarding an exiting health condition or severe allergy?
Sure, you can take the opportunity of just simply hoping for the best but an opportunity is having the chance to guide how you will be assisted or how you will assist someone.
What to do?
Consider what key identification and healthcare information you need to have at all times.
Print out your important emergency contact names and contact information and list order of priority
What key information do you want to provide someone who is trying to assist you?
Consider redundancy measures such as an ID bracelet to provide emergency information in case you loose your wallet or phone.
It could mean the difference between receiving necessary assistance and care, or not.