Disaster readiness: Be aware and be prepared

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 10/25/2018, 2:38 p.m. | Updated on 10/25/2018, 2:38 p.m.

Be aware and be prepared. That is the advice of the Medical Society of the State of New York for both the general public and for physicians. If disaster strikes, you might not have time to plan a response. So planning in advance for an emergency is the best way to protect yourself and your family. By working as a team and ensuring that family members know their roles, your family can be prepared to handle disaster before it strikes.

A well thought-out emergency plan will better protect your family from disasters such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, fire or flood. Your plan should include educating your family about what actions to take to keep them safe, as well as assembling a family disaster supply kit.

Know what to do before you need to do it

A family disaster plan should be suitable for the ages and abilities of individual family members and evaluated at least once a year. MSSNY recommends including the following advice from the American Red Cross in your family disaster plan.

Warning signals: Educate your family about warning signals. Make sure everyone understands what the different signals—such as fire alarms and emergency sirens—mean.

Emergency numbers: You might already have a list of emergency numbers near your phone, but when was the last time you updated that list? Make sure that list is up-to-date and accurate. All phones should have easy-to-read emergency numbers posted on them. Family members should also carry emergency numbers in their wallets, backpacks or other carry-along items.

Contact persons: Designate an out-of-state contact person for a “buddy check.” If your family is separated during an emergency, family members can check-in with that “buddy.”

Meeting place: Designate two possible places where you can meet up with each other in case your family gets separated or if you are not able to return to your home.

Money and important documents: Keep extra cash and credit cards, an extra set of house and car keys and important documents where you can get to them quickly. These documents should include personal identification for every member of your family, your insurance policies, birth certificates and Social Security cards.

What is in the well-stocked emergency kit?

The Medical Society and Red Cross also advise stocking your emergency kit with six basic items: water, food, first aid and supplies, clothing, bedding, tools and special items, such as communication devices. Because electricity, power and phone lines could be knocked out, it is crucial that your supplies include a battery-operated radio and flashlights. Be sure to have a fresh supply of batteries. Store the supplies in an easy-to-carry, waterproof backpack or duffel bag.

Keep at least a three-day supply of water for each person in your household. Store water in plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles. Store 1 gallon of water per person per day—2 quarts for drinking and 2 quarts for food preparation and sanitation.

Store at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food. Good choices can include canned meats, fruits and soups; high-energy foods, such as peanut butter and granola bars; and comfort and stress foods, such as cookies and dry cereal, stored in a tightly sealed container.

The first-aid kit should include assorted sterile adhesive bandages, scissors, needles, tweezers, moistened toilettes, antiseptic, thermometer, lubricant, cleansing agent or soap and sunscreen. Nonprescription drugs should include aspirin and non-aspirin pain reliever, anti-diarrhea medication, antacid, syrup of Ipecac (used to induce vomiting for poisoning and given under the direction of a poison prevention specialist) and laxatives. Personal needs, such as prescription drugs, diapers, baby foods and formula, should also be included.

Physicians are also preparing

Whereas the above advice is for the general public, MSSNY is also applying similar advice to the medical profession by training physicians to be prepared in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster created by a biological, chemical or nuclear/radiological agent. With the help of 16 online courses, a training manual and seminars being conducted around the state, physicians are learning how to identify, treat and decontaminate patients if they come in contact with any of these biological, chemical or nuclear/radiological agents.