Calling All Thrillseekers and Klutzes: The Safest Places to Have a Vacation Emergency

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul

When we're blasting out of town for vacation, we like to know three things: where's the closest beach, pizza parlor and pit-stop motel. What we rarely think about are the locations of the nearest trauma centers, hospitals and base helipads. Still, it might not be a bad idea to keep these in mind, especially since summer makes us more likely to try activities we might normally shy away from (who goes skydiving in winter?).

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We were happy to find the American Trauma Center's interactive map that allows us to spot "safety zones" at a glance--because a skilled medical professional is more valuable in a health emergency than an expert pie-maker (unless a margherita pizza is your dying wish). The purple splotches denote areas where advanced trauma care is just 45 minutes to an hour away. Looking at the map, we were startled to see that some popular summer destinations fall into the country's most unsafe areas.

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Time magazine pointed out that the white danger zones include Maui, Key West and eight more American tourist spots. So we called the American Trauma Center to ask how we should use this information. ATC executive director Harry Teter started by telling us that even out-of-the-way places like Yellowstone have some access to emergency care, but 911 callers should be aware that it will take longer to get a seriously injured person to the trauma professionals. With the ATC map and help from Teter, we came up with safer destinations for three thrilling summer activities:

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Rock climbing: Instead of the beautiful-but-remote Yosemite National Park in California, climb in the lovely and challenging Shawagunks, which are just a short helicopter ride from New York City, home to some of the most sophisticated trauma care in the world.

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Hiking: South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, and Mount Rushmore. It's also one of the few states on this map that is practically untouched by purple safety zones. While planning your big hike, consider the part of the Appalachian trail that goes through Maryland, former home of R. Adams Crowley, known as the "father of trauma care," who helped develop "a state-wide system that's second to none," says Teter.

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Rafting down the Colorado River is a spectacular way to take in the Grand Canyon...but talk about remote! A safer vantage point is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which offers breath-taking views on a glass walkway that juts out over the abyss. Then schedule a separate whitewater rafting trip to Washington state, whose trauma centers Teter calls "superb."

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Better safe than...well, you know.

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