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Cruise Escort's Emergency Guide

In light of the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship accident last week, I was thinking, "what if I was on board escorting a group of residents and such a tragedy struck?" I have been so lucky in my career as activities director the past two decades to escort residents from my retirement community on plenty of cruises and this has never crossed my mind. I will say that I've thought about a fire on board, but not a ship taking on water or listing on its side.

There are certain procedures that I like to follow when I am escorting residents on an overnight trip. Before leaving our community, I ask the resident to complete a medical information form. This form covers what medicines the resident is currently taking, if they have any medical conditions that an emergency doctor would need to know about, and their emergency contact information. I keep this information with me while I am on the trip. Our community nursing department has all this information, but I feel better knowing that I have the information easily accessible in case of an emergency.

When I am on a cruise with the residents, one of the first things that I do when I get on board is to take a list of the residents in my group to the infirmary. I make sure that the staff knows who I am to the group and how to reach me. I tell them that I have the emergency information that will assist them in case they have a situation with anyone on the list. I also remind the residents that if they go to the infirmary, hospital in port, or have any other concerns, be it for themselves, or for someone else in the group, that they should notify me as soon as possible. 

Keeping in contact with your group members is very important to the success of "keeping yourself in the loop." I set a time before dinner every night when I can meet with those in the group. I usually pick a bar that is near to the dining room and hang out there, or find out where most of the group likes to meet and join them. I enjoy this time with them because I can learn how their day was, if there are any issues, medical or otherwise, etc. with people that I may not see otherwise. I will say that if I don't see people at this meeting time, I usually go to their dinner table and speak to the table to check in with the residents. This, however, is changing as the cruise ships now offer different dining venues and open seating, so my game plan has also shifted to include phone calls to their cabins to see how they are doing.

When a resident does have an emergency situation on board, my job is to help them as much as I can. Providing the medical emergency form is step one. Contacting the community so that they can contact others who need to know is next. I also connect with my travel agent, who starts working with the ship to get the resident the best care possible, which sometimes means bringing them home from far away destinations. If the resident needs to leave the ship, I work with the cruise line to get their personal items packed and ready to get off of the ship. I know that this provides piece of mind for the ailing resident when they know that I am in their cabin packing their belongings instead of a crew member from the ship.

If you've escorted trips before, you know that each time your phone rings, you pray that it is nothing serious. I have had friends in the business who have had a resident pass away on board. I haven't had that happen, but I have had residents stay behind in a hospital on a few different occasions.  

If there was a big ship-wide emergency, such as the one last week with the Concordia, then as much as I wish I could, nothing I could have done would have changed the situation. I guess that afterwards, if I was lucky enough to be a survivor, I would begin to locate residents and address their needs the best that I could. There is no way to say to them, "if there is an emergency, meet me at (fill in the blank)." As I sit here in the safety of my own home, I think that the likelihood of this ever happening is very slim. I also am thinking that it would be wise to always have the list of resident's name and cabin number with you at all times, maybe on a smart-phone or tablet. Hmmm, another reason to see about getting work to buy me one!  

My thoughts tonight are with the passengers and their families who are still missing and for those who died in this terrible accident. I hope that for all the bad that has come out of this terrible ordeal, that some good follows.... such as those working on board the ships becoming more in tune to what it would really be like when a crisis hits and how people react (staff and passengers) and work towards improving  the outcome for the future. I wish I knew it there was a group leader on board and what his/her experience was.... but until then, I hope that we will never know it for ourselves. Safe travels!

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