Poll: Majority of Americans Unprepared to Help in a Major Emergency

A medical emergency can happen any time, any place. In fact, one in three Americans visit the emergency department each year. However, according to a recent national poll* from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the majority of adults are unprepared to step in to help in a major medical emergency until help arrives.

Among those who participated in the survey, adults believe on average it would take approximately 12 minutes for medical emergency services to arrive to a situation after being called regardless of their geographic location. However, what people do in the minutes before help arrives can be the difference between life and death.

The data shows that adults are confident in their abilities to help during non-life-threatening emergencies such as fainting (62 percent), or if someone has a broken bone (49 percent); however, that confidence wanes as the severity of the medical emergency increases.

  • 68 percent are not confident to help in the event of a mass shooting.
  • 62 percent are not confident to help if someone's been shot.
  • 52 percent are not confident to help if someone has stopped breathing.
  • 50 percent are not confident to help if someone is severely bleeding.
  • 48 percent are not confident to help in case of a natural disaster.
  • 47 percent are not confident to help if someone has been in a car accident.

While eight in 10 adults (80 percent) feel prepared to effectively communicate with 911 operators if they’re the first person on the scene of a medical emergency, adults feel unprepared when it comes to providing more “hands-on” assistance.

  • 62 percent are unprepared to help if someone has been shot.
  • 61 percent are unprepared to administer an automated external defibrillator.
  • 51 percent are unprepared to control severe bleeding.
  • 42 percent are unprepared to move an endangered victim to safety.
  • 45 percent are unprepared to apply a tourniquet.
  • 41 percent are unprepared to perform compression-only CPR.

The primary reasons adults report they would hesitate to intervene in a medical emergency are because they don't have any medical training and they fear they would make the situation worse.

Emergency physicians are taking steps to educate and empower people in communities nationwide to confidently be the help until help arrives. ACEP developed Until Help Arrives, a free, one-hour training course for anyone to learn essential lifesaving skills, like controlling severe bleeding and performing hands-only CPR.

According the poll, nine in 10 adults said they would be more willing to intervene in an emergency if they received Until Help Arrives training.

In addition, adults overwhelmingly would feel safer knowing someone certified in the Until Help Arrives program is nearby.

  • 89 percent would feel safer in their own home.
  • 89 percent would feel safer in school.
  • 89 percent would feel safer at a community center or library.
  • 87 percent would feel safer at a local business.
  • 86 percent would feel safer at their office.
  • 85 percent would feel safer in a place of worship.
  • 84 percent would feel safer at a restaurant.

The poll results show the Until Help Arrives program would help people feel more prepared for the unpredictable, and make our community members feel safer at home and in public.

Visit Until Help Arrives to learn more about the program, sign up to be a certified instructor, or attend or host a training near you.

Download an infographic about the poll data here.

Download the the full poll results here.

*Morning Consult conducted this poll on behalf of ACEP on October 7-8, 2019 among a national sample of 2201 adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, and region. The results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

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