What is the best method for assessing a casualty?

Primary SurveyThe best method for assessing a casualty in an emergency situation is to perform a quick primary survey followed by a more thorough secondary survey.

A primary survey is a quick assessment of a casualty to find and correct any life-threatening issues. It often follows a structure such as DR ABC (or DRSABC). This involves checking the following things:

  • Danger – any hazards to yourself or bystanders?
  • Response – is the casualty unconscious?
    • Shout for help – if they are unconscious, shout for further help but do not leave their side
  • Airway – open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin
  • Breathing – check for normal breathing for up to 10 seconds
  • Circulation – perform CPR and use a defibrillator if the victim isn’t breathing

A primary survey should be carried out to assess all casualties. 

Once a primary survey has been performed, you can move onto a more thorough secondary survey. It may not be possible to perform a secondary survey if there are problems with the primary survey. For example, performing CPR takes priority over performing a secondary survey. 

The secondary survey involves:

  • History – finding out the history of the incident / illness from the casualty or bystanders
  • Examination – looking for visual clues
  • Vital signs / observations – if trained, recording relevant observations 

The primary and secondary survey provide a structure for you to assess each casualty in a logical way. You can learn how to perform primary and secondary surveys in more detail by signing up to a free online first aid class


John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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