Let’s Prepare for the Unexpected

More episodes in the Sounds Like Health Podcast

Are you prepared if the unexpected strikes? Angela Clendenin, PhD, at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and Martin Mufich, MSN, RN, at the Texas A&M College of Nursing, discuss some steps you can take to prepare yourself and those you love for a disaster.

Episode Transcript

Mary Leigh Meyer: Howdy, welcome to Sounds Like Health. I’m Mary Leigh Meyer, and I am here with Angela Clendenin with the School of Public Health, and Martin Mufich with the College of Nursing. They are both faculty advisors for the student steering committee for Disaster Day. The Health Science Center held it’s 11th annual Disaster Day last Friday, so we wanted to bring them in to tell you guys a little bit more about that, and maybe discuss some disaster preparedness tips that you can do to get yourself and those you love ready in case of a disaster. Welcome to the show guys. Can you tell us a little bit more about Disaster Day?

Angela Clendenin: Disaster Day is an interprofessional education opportunity among all of the colleges within the Health Science Center. And also including college of veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences. And it is the nation’s largest student led disaster training exercise for inter-professional education. And it involves about 500 or more students, nurses, future nurses, future pharmacists, future doctors, public health practitioners, and future veterinarians all working together to respond to a simulated disaster.

Mary Leigh Meyer: That sounds like a pretty big event. Just very briefly, what is inter-professional education? What does that mean?

Martin Mufich: So, studies have found out that when disciplines work together and learn together, that health outcomes and patient outcomes improve. So, there’s been a big push for IPE, interprofessional education, to occur here at the Health Science Center, and throughout all the colleges. They’re finding common ground. It used to be that professions were somewhat siloed and that they did their own thing and just reacted with the other disciplines when they needed to in the workplace. So, by getting out and having a somewhat very unique experience for these students, outside of the classroom, reacting to something that many of them have never been around, it puts them on a level ground, has to get them to work together and build that teamwork and cooperation and respect for each other.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah so that sounds pretty important in an emergency simulation. You could never be truly prepared for it, but that sounds like a pretty good training opportunity for them. What does the everyday person need to know about preparing for a disaster?

Angela Clendenin: So, most communities will use what’s called an all hazards approach to their community planning for preparedness, but it also applies at that personal level. So, they’re just, you need to have a plan of what would happen if. If you could not stay in your home for whatever reason, wildfire, or a tornado, or a flood, or a hurricane, and you need to have some basic essentials that you can just grab quickly and leave. And have a plan of where you’re going and notifying your family. And so there’s a lot of good websites you can go to, The Red Cross, preparetexas.gov, those all have lists of things that you might wanna think through, and have either in some sort of container or a bag that we would call a go-bag, or a go-box, that can easily be grabbed and taken with you.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So what kind of things should go in one of those go-bags? What should we try and get in advance?

Martin Mufich: Well, needless to say, there’s things like water, that’s a big thing, clothes. A lot of copies of paperwork, because if something happens and your house gets blown away, or the communities suffers a tornado, just having that information, whether it’s insurance, driver’s license, medications, a list of medication, list of contacts, those types of things. Just getting people prepared to think about it. It’s that saying, plan for the worst, hope for the best. But have it ready. One item that you can buy this stuff, they have this stuff already made, but you’ll find it less expensive if you put it together, but you have to remember to almost put it on your calendar to check your supplies, however that is, whatever it’s gonna run out on, you know whether that’s yearly to be sure everything’s still good and in good shape. It’s kinda like if you were to, what we try to do at our house is that when you put on the calendar, time to change the air filters, time to change the batteries in the smoke alarms. Probably about once every six months, check this box to be sure we’re all good and everything’s still ready to go.

Angela Clendenin: And I know a lot of people wonder, well how much water do we need, and how much of this do we need. The recommendation typically is at least three day’s to five day’s worth of kind of grab and go shelf stable food and water. And you wanna make sure that you have the same for your pets, and be prepared to evacuate with your pets. Have a plan of where you can take them, know if you’re going to a shelter or a hotel that it’s pet friendly and have about the same amount of food and medication for them. A lot of pharmacies will allow you to go in and fill above and beyond your prescription if it’s an emergency. So, you need to follow-up on that and make sure that that’s the case, so that you have enough medication with you and you’re not left out.

Martin Mufich: Just that proactive ability gives somebody quite a bit of confidence. And there’s just so much good information out there, with the videos, and the stuff from the governmental agencies. The point I was gonna bring up is that if it’s going to be maybe a sustained absence, relatives where you could stay. And just, it’s kind of a morose dinner topic but when you’re, I’m not gonna say like at Thanksgiving or something, like hey, let’s pretend a tornado runs through your place up in Oklahoma, would you guys wanna come down here? Let’s pretend a hurricane comes up through the gulf, let’s pretend, and have those discussions early, and try to figure out how you want to do things.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah, I grew up in Houston and we had my dad’s mother lived around the corner and she was in a wheelchair, had oxygen, and so when we were thinking through those things, we thought about close family that we would’ve needed to help assist. So that kind of got me thinking when you said prepare for your pets, prepare for those you love that might need a little bit extra help.

Angela Clendenin: Exactly, and you know, that brings up a really good point with your grandmother that’s on oxygen, that some people are on machines that require electricity, and there’s not guarantee, even if you can come back to your house in three or four days, that you’re gonna have electricity for a few weeks. And so, I think that was kind of a surprise with Harvey, when people evacuated, they thought after it had passed through they’d be able to come back in, and they were without electricity for quite some time. So, having a backup to your communication plan, cell phones may not be working, so you wanna find some other mechanism, some other access point, to be able to reach out to people. As well as you can’t guarantee that ATMs are working, so you want to be able to withdraw some cash in advance so that you have that just to get you by. And understanding that three or four days of supplies gets you where you’re going, and you’ll need to be able to sustain yourself for probably maybe up to a week or two, depending on the type of disaster, before electricity is restored.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And Martin, you’re a nurse. What should people have in their first aid kit? What do you think? Should they bring their entire medicine cabinet with them? Or do you think there are specific things that they should be sure to include?

Martin Mufich: You know there’s the basics of course, the antibacterial salves, and the bandages, and just things in your typical first aid kit. But one thing we’re really trying hard in the College of Nursing, is to prepare our students to take care of people in a non-traditional environment. So, you roll up on a four or five car pileup and you have to make decisions, you have to keep yourself safe, almost that first-responder type of thinking. But going back to your question, what do you need as a basis. Once again, I will always defer particularly to what your family needs. Is it an asthma inhaler, things like that. But then just the typical basics would be pretty good. Know your local community resources, your Red Cross, where to go, maybe it’s a church that you would go to. In the event that maybe it’s a smaller area that got hit where would you go locally. And then also know that as these terrible events occur, there’s always lessons-learned. And so, there are, Angela might have to help me out on the compacts, or there’s agreements between communities. So, I believe in the event that a Hurricane hit the Beaumont area, College Station has an agreement to take up to 5,000 of their people. So you are allowed to go to certain places. Those things are in the works right now where to go.

Angela Clendenin: That’s a really good point. So, for example with Houston, after Ike, people were stuck for hours, and hours, and hours on the exit routes. So, the lesson-learned from that was they need to do what’s called zoned evacuation. And so, where you live determines whether you are going to get the first evacuation notice, the second evacuation notice, or be in the third wave. And you’re also kind of directed to exit one way. I always try to explain to people, you may have relatives in San Antonio, but where you live, you have to evacuate towards Dallas before you can get over and then come back down to San Antonio. It’s meant to try and ease that flow of traffic. So, knowing that plan, being engaged in your community so you’re aware of that. Texas has a wonderful resource, called 211, it’s a phone number that you can dial from anywhere, and it has a menu button, guided menu, where you can access information like the different kind of shelters that are open, in what communities, are they special needs shelters, can they accommodate pets, how many people, are they full. So, it can help make those decisions as you’re moving down the road.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So, you recommend people know what these resources are before they need them. You know, they might not have cellphone service, the might not have internet access, radio, you don’t know what you’re gonna have, and so it’s all in that preparedness.

Angela Clendenin: Exactly. And that’s one of the challenges in disaster communication or risk communication is that balance of constantly making sure people are aware of the resources that they have, and to have a plan. But at some point, when is it so much that they just kind of block it out and forget about it? So, it’s always good to have sort of a constant periodic reminder of what you need to do to be prepared for your family and your pets.

Mary Leigh Meyer: I know I like to follow the, just the regional, whatever city I live in, I follow the regional emergency management Facebook or Twitter. I know here at Texas A&M we have this specific emergency management social media account that gives updates and regional advice. So that’s something that’s helped me through my 26 years.

Angela Clendenin: Well and almost every county is going to have some sort of a website, at minimum, or some sort of social media presence that you can subscribe to. So, I highly recommend finding those and subscribing, or linking in to it, or liking it on Facebook. That way it really does help you stay informed.

Martin Mufich: One other thing coming back to the students, and kind of almost the Disaster Day and off shoots we hope to do, is that we give students maybe, I know the students in our college and community health going out to, whether it’s fairs or H-E-Bs and setting up, like you go and get your glucose and blood pressure checked, having these types of pamphlets and information so that people that are out there walking by and they go now what’s this, and the students can help teach and give them resources they might not have been aware of.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So, all this is very specific to the individual, you need to know what your family needs, you need to know what your house needs, you need to know regionally what could impact you. How should people go about learning what the potential threats are?

Angela Clendenin: I think probably the best way for people to understand the threats that their particular region are facing, is to again, be connected to your community, be involved with your community. Every county has to have an emergency management plan that follows FEMA guidelines, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines. And as part of that planning process, they do what’s called a threat and hazards identification risk assessment, or a THIRA. Where they sit there and they talk through not only what are the risks and threats, everything from maybe a nuclear meltdown at South Texas Nuclear, all the way down to school shootings and people walking through crosswalks texting, with a large student population. And so then they assign a probability, they give it context. It’s a high probability and a high consequence, or a low probability and a high consequence, and try to prioritize that planning. But all of those plans typically are public record, but the best way to understand what they say, because those documents are quite large, is to get involved in your community. Many communities have what we call a community emergency response team, or a CERT. And they go through some of the same training as first responders. And they are the first volunteers called in to help with shelter operations, or volunteer registration, when people descend on a community to help support a response effort. And so that’s an excellent way for people to get involved.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Okay, and before we wrap up I think we need to touch back on the pets. We are located in Bryan, we have a lot of small animals, and we have a lot of large animals. What should people be thinking in advance about preparations for these animals.

Angela Clendenin: So, number one is people need to be as prepared for their pets, and have a plan for how they’re going to evacuate with them. It’s very similar, matches their own personal preparedness plan. Same amount of food and water, they may need blankets, crates, toys, things like that. Animals get stressed during disaster. And sometimes when that happens your pets can actually, what I say, acquire super human capabilities, and they can dig out, or they can jump over fences, or they can escape out the door faster than you’ve ever seen them run. So probably the most important thing you can do to be prepared with your pets is to microchip them. When we deploy that’s the number one way that we can reunite people with their pets. When they’re found and they come back, that microchip is unmistakable as to ownership. Having a picture of you with your pets, veterinary records, so that when you may have to go back to a shelter to pick up a pet that’s been separated from you, being able to prove ownership is really key. And I know that living in predominately rural areas you have a lot of livestock. So engaging with your county extension agent, and saying, I have a trailer, I can pull out this many cattle, or this many horses, or this many goats, or whatever livestock you particularly have. Knowing where they livestock shelter is set up, they can start to identify extra resources they may need. You know, we need to use the FFA trailers from five different counties to come in and help get animals out. And making sure that there’s hay, and the types of feed that they need, and that the type of care that large animals need to have is provided at that shelter. So it’s really important that they know how much feed, how much space, things like that, are gonna be required. In Brazoria County they set up at the fairgrounds because it’s uniquely set up to house large numbers of large animals. And so being able to know where to take them, who has capacity, who can help, who needs help, all that tends to run through the Texas Animal Health Commission, and your local county extension agent.

Mary Leigh Meyer: That’s pretty good info. Even before, we mentioned when you identify potential shelters, if you have pets you need to identify what shelters can take pets. Do they ever need proof of rabies vaccine? Or do you need any credentials to get your small pet into these shelters?

Angela Clendenin: Rabies vaccination is required by law, but not everybody who has a pet that’s running loose, or that needs a shelter, has that. So, typically, if you can’t prove that they have a rabies vaccination, they’re going to get it. They’ll also get vaccinated against some things like kennel cough, and those types of transmissible diseases that tend to happen when you have a bunch of animals in close proximity.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So, they won’t deny your pet?

Angela Clendenin: No, they won’t deny your pet. But they’re gonna ask for records or proof of vaccination, and then if they don’t have it, your pet may be in quarantine for a little bit, or isolated away from the main population of animals in the shelter. And then at that same time, they’re probably going to administer the vaccines that they need to be in a large population.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Okay that’s good to know. I know I have a few pets that I would need to take with me in case of a scenario like that. What do we do with the members of our family that might need a little bit more assistance? You know, what about small children? Do they need any specific helpful toy, or certain kind of medication? What about my grandmother who’s oxygen? Can we get extra tanks in advance?

Martin Mufich: So kinda to address that, The Red Cross has got this great program called the Pillowcase Project. It’s underwritten by a big company. And, basically, the kids are taught in the case of a fire, or you need to take something and evacuate your house, here’s your pillowcase, and they practice what they need to put in. So that’s one way to do that, and to practice with the kiddos, that helps to sway it. When we talked about evacuating to certain regions, people with certain health needs, if you think about people in hospitals that require certain things, they will also be sent to certain regions as well. So, somebody that is more ill, there are very possibly designated areas where they would go.

Angela Clendenin: To piggyback off what Martin was saying, you know, that’s the key, we have a lot of resources, we have a lot of capability to ensure pets, people with special needs, have that continuity of care, they have a shelter that they can go to, but we can’t help those that we don’t know about. And so, it’s really important that if you have family members, or your immediate family needs assistance with small animals, large animals, people in your family with disabilities, or other types of illnesses, that it’s communicated, so that the people that are helping with that evacuation effort can best assist you. And again, thinking about other alternative means of communication—Facebook, any kind of email if you have access, even through an internet cafe or something like that, at a Starbucks where you can go in and get some quick WIFI that’s up and running. There are other alternative ways besides just strictly the phone lines to reach out.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So, I think that’s all the time we have for today. So, this podcast was really about disaster preparedness, because on Friday, like we mentioned before, we had one of the most successful Disaster Days. It was unique in many ways, it had hundreds of students involved. What made this one so special?

Angela Clendenin: Well Disaster Day has really become a signature event for the Health Science Center, like you said, and it’s starting to attract a lot of attention because of the utility, the quality of the interprofessional experience, the potential for the lessons learned, it’s a skillset that can’t be taught in classrooms. And so, this year we were fortunate, we had members of the Texas State Guard who came in and helped train. We included members of the Corps of Cadets here at A&M to come in and help with some of the logistical movement of people. In addition, we also had even international visitors. We had two people coming in from Germany. One from the German federal government who was here to observe Disaster Day to see how we bring in multiple disciplines to train together in a mass casualty event. The idea is he and the German graduate student who were here would be able to then take that back to Germany and work together with universities there, to begin to create something similar in that country. And I really feel like based on their experience here the leadership, particularly the student leadership, of Disaster Day, may have the opportunity to go over there and almost serve as consultants with the students in Germany to help them to begin to develop this concept further. So, it’s a concept that, you know, it began here locally, it was an A&M idea of selfless service, and we’re able to extend that hopefully in the future overseas.

Martin Mufich: And it goes without saying, this is the second year we’ve had Disaster Day at Disaster City, TEEX, which for those of you who don’t know, this is a great resource. It’s probably one of only four or five big training areas in the United States. And please take some time to check out some of their videos and information. They have people coming from all over the world to train there, so we’re very fortunate to be in a place that has this great resource.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Disaster day was on such a major scale. Was there anybody else in addition to TEEX that stepped in to help make this such a success?

Angela Clendenin: Again, starting off with TEEX, we wouldn’t be able to have the quality of the experience that we are able to provide these students, without having something as magnificent as Disaster Day, or Disaster City, for them to go and train in. But you know, it involves a lot of people and a lot of expense, and we wouldn’t be able to do that without having sponsors like H-E-B, who has stepped up now for the second year in a row, to provide a significant contribution to help us provide this level of training.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah that’s pretty incredible how the community is supporting this event to you.

Angela Clendenin: Absolutely, couldn’t do it without it.

Martin Mufich: Absolutely.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Okay guys, thank you for coming on the show. Angela, Martin, it’s been a pleasure.

Angela Clendenin: Thank you.

Martin Mufich: Thank you.

Mary Leigh Meyer: This has been Sounds Like Health.