It’s now been over one month since the initial earthquake in Japan. In today’s 24-hour news cycle it’s sometimes hard not to feel helpless, when we watch these terrible disasters unfold on the air. So whether it is this recent earthquake in Japan, the prior one in Haiti, the Tsunami in Indonesia or Hurricane Katrina that happened right in our own backyard, these events make us feel vulnerable.
Emergency medicine is a critical part of the first response to all public health disasters. Emergency physicians are uniquely qualified and specifically trained to provide care during and after a disaster? We are on the front lines working directly with the EMS and pre-hospital providers to manage care during local and national disasters and sometimes even international disasters.
Even though you can’t prepare for every eventuality, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, there are some things you can do to help prepare your family in the event of a disaster.
1. First and foremost keep informed ahead of time. You can sign up for your local and state health department’s twitter and facebook feeds for alerts and updates to be sent to you. Or sign up at your local jurisdiction for reverse 911 or “all calling”, which is an automated system that notifies you in the event of disaster or impending evacuations or quarantines.
2. Always have a battery-operated radio to listen to the news in event of a disaster. Your local broadcasting station will give you instructions on their media emergency alert system on radio and TV, as well as explain outdoor warning sirens for weather alerts.
3. Make a formal plan for your family, which includes several potential evacuation routes out of your city, finding out where the emergency shelters will be set up and learn evacuation and emergency plans for your kid’s schools.
4. Set up several meeting places and make sure all family members know where to go in the event communications are disrupted from a disaster.
5. Pick an out of state contact person for your family and make sure everyone know who it is and how to contact them.
6. Keep a set of important original documents outside your house in a safety deposit box or another safe place. Things such as deeds and titles, insurance policies, stocks and bonds, also a list of bank accounts and credit card accounts.
7. Keep some cash and important personal identification documents handy such as: passports, birth certificates, drivers licenses and social security cards as well as important health information including copies of prescriptions, doctors phone numbers, child’s immunizations records, list of allergies and a list of emergency contacts with addresses and phone numbers in and out of state.
8. Assemble a disaster kit which should have the following: Water (3gall/person), canned foods (fruit, meat and veggies 10 cans/person), crackers, cereal, granola bars (all in water proof bags), peanut butter, baby supplies (diapers, baby food and formula), pet supplies (food and water half gal/day), 3-5 day of supply your family’s medications including over the counter acetaminophen, antihistamines and ibuprofen, personal hygiene items, extra eyeglasses and contacts.
9. Assemble an evacuation kit which should have the following: a first aid kit, battery powered flashlight and radio, as well as spare car keys, signal flare, whistle, matches (in water proof container), chlorine bleach or a water sanitizing system, duct tape, plastic garbage bags, blankets or sleeping bags, rain or warm weather gear, manual can-opener, utensils or mess kits.
10. Review your family’s disaster plan every 6 months to 1 year with practice drills if possible. Don’t forget to store you disaster and evacuation kits in sealed containers in a readily accessible place to grab on the run.
So whether it’s a big weather related event such as a hurricane and flooding or even something such as a house fire, being proactive and taking these first steps might make you feel a bit more safe and secure if you and your family have to leave your home in a hurry.