Your emergency preparedness plan

Disaster preparedness_Two students at Disaster Day are wearing head hats standing on fallen cement
More episodes in the Sounds Like Health Podcast

While we are in the middle of hurricane season, we take a second to discuss disaster preparedness and what that could mean for you and your family.

Episode Transcript

Mary Leigh Meyer: Howdy everybody! Welcome to another episode of Sounds Like Health. My name is Mary Leigh Meyer.

Sam Craft: I’m her co-host, Sam Craft.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And we’re here today, again, with Martin Mufich. He is now the director of disaster preparedness, response and recovery for the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and he’s a clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing.

Martin Mufich: Hello.

Sam Craft: You have really, really made your titles much larger.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yes.

Sam Craft: So, I feel like you’re much more important now than the last time we saw you.

Martin Mufich: I feel that way myself, but I don’t think a lot of people would agree with that.

Sam Craft: That’s not what I hear.

Mary Leigh Meyer: He’s important every time we see him.

Sam Craft: Well, I get, more important now though. He’s on the third floor too, so that’s like super important.

Mary Leigh Meyer: I don’t know we’re on the fourth floor. So, does that make us more important?

Martin Mufich: Yes.

Mary Leigh Meyer: So, what does your new title mean? You’re over the disaster education for the whole science center now or what exactly are you doing?

Martin Mufich: So, yeah, thanks! The director position is a new role within the HSC IP. It’s under the interprofessional education department. There’re many facets, but one of them is a kind of the overarching manager of our Disaster Day simulation, which was a one day simulation. It’s now expanding to a week-long simulation. It will be in February of 2020.

Another one is the Operation Lone Star that just happened in South Texas. One of the goals that we had was to eventually create a Health Science Center emergency response team—much like the vet…veterinary medicine response team—developing curriculum around disasters and working with all the great community and A&M system entities such as  Texas Division of Emergency Management, TEEX, Texas Task Force One, etc..

Sam Craft: So, I think you mentioned Operation Lone Star in all of that and I don’t think a lot of people know what Operation Lone Star is. I do because I’ve been to it and it’s here obviously. But can you go in a little detail about that because it’s a huge, huge operation. It’s not just us that’s involved in that.

Martin Mufich: Yeah, we are actually a small component of that. This is actually coming from the Texas Department of State Health Services. They are the keeper of it, I guess. They work a lot with the Texas State Guard. It’s been going on for over 20 years. From a Health Science Center standpoint, we’ve been involved for two. But it focuses on regions in South Texas along the border, usually about six counties in places like Laredo, Harlingen, Brownsville, etc. And we bring medical services to those who want it. Basically, you just show up and you get it. I know the 2018 numbers, there was over almost 10,000 people were seen and over 43,000 medical services provided. Anywhere from dental cleanings to glasses being made to sports physicals to immunizations. The list goes on and on. It’s a week-long event.

A little bit more about that. I don’t know how many volunteers there are because all these counties are involved. But one of the groups has showed up this year, that has participated in the past, has been the United States Public Health Service. And there were many of them. And so our students got to work hand in hand with the people from the Texas State Guard, USPHS, along with the community and county resources down there.

Mary Leigh Meyer: That’s an incredible learning opportunity for them.

Sam Craft: Yeah, and it’s almost like dealing with a mass event. Like I said, I went last year and it was spread out between what, four or five campuses, there around.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. Five to seven.

Sam Craft: Mission.

Martin Mufich: San Juan.

Sam Craft: Harlingen and all them.

Martin Mufich: Harlingen.

Sam Craft: So, it’s almost like being in a disaster event. It’s not the trauma level, but as far as organization and getting people together, that’s kind of what it felt like to me.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. And that brings up a great point. This is actually an exercise that’s done annually so that they kind of check how their logistics work. So in the event of maybe a mass inoculation or something like that, they have it. So it works as an exercise simulation for almost all those entities, the Guard and the state and the community levels.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s not something we think about as everyday people, that the people that are coming to keep us safe and healthy need to kind of practice.

Sam Craft: Yeah. They got to train. They got to be ready for it.

Martin Mufich: Yeah, so it is really good. And in certain areas it really opened the student’s eyes, because for many of these people, this is the only time they get medical services. So many of them will come the night before and spend the night to get in line.

Sam Craft: Like to get talking in real just into what we’re going to talk to today. Mainly, which is what, Mary Leigh?

Mary Leigh Meyer: Disaster preparedness.

Martin Mufich: Yes. So it’s about that time of the year again. And so in doing some preparation for this podcast, I really wanted to promote this website from the state. It is txready.org, T-X-R-E-A-D-Y dot org. It’s got a lot of really good information for you. So the thing I really want to try to talk about here is that everybody says, “Oh, we should have a plan. We need to have a plan. We need to have a plan. If the house catches on fire, we need to have a plan.” This and that, but we just don’t do it.

But if you think of it, we need insurance, right? If you drive a car, you should have insurance. If you own a home or rent a place, you should have insurance. If you’re fortunate enough, you can get health insurance. And so this is a kind of insurance. And if you think of it that way, it’s an insurance that is relatively inexpensive. It just takes some time and some planning. Much of the stuff that you need you can get at a discount store. But it gives you a tremendous amount of peace of mind. Much of the information out there, and now with the advent of technology and the websites, you can really get this information quickly to you. So, it’s well worth the time to plan for these types of events.

Sam Craft: So, to me, disaster preparedness, I always think of like those shows on TV where it’s like the preppers that have their bag, their go-bags and like that kind of… Are you talking like that kind of disaster preparedness? Or is it like when I was growing up we would do fire drills in the house and we would draw out a little fire plan on the wall, on a piece of paper. It’s like this is how you get out of the house in case of a fire.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Oh, I thought you were drawing on the wall. No way your mom let you do that.

Sam Craft: No. But what level…

Martin Mufich: It’s both.

Sam Craft: It’s both.

Martin Mufich: It’s both. So I’m just kind of paraphrasing what’s on the site. But the first part is about be informed. So when you make a plan, how to make plan, who to include, what do you need in that plan. You want to build a kit, whether it’s a go-kit, there are go-kits available for sale, of course, at a price, but you can get that type stuff. And just the knowledge that you can get.

A lot of people don’t realize that there are, there’s agreements, there’s compacts between cities on our Texas coast and internal cities. So like the Beaumont area, if they needed to evacuate, they’d come to College Station. Corpus Christi probably goes somewhere else. So you can get all this information. You can find out the routes to take. You can get the latest weather updates. But just things that you need to do to make a plan. And when you first look at it, it looks daunting, right? There’s a lot of things to do. But if you just try to piece meal like, this month on this Saturday, I’m going to get all this stuff printed out. Whether it’s things like a copies of birth certificates, utility bills to prove where you live, medications, things like that. And then you just kind of piece meal all of these things together, and you’ll, I think it’s just smart to do, and it gives you a lot of peace of mind in the event that something happens.

Mary Leigh Meyer: This website, you mentioned it, this one’s for the state of Texas specifically. Are there, does every state have something similar? I’m thinking for our out-of-state listeners.

Martin Mufich: I would assume so, but that’s just an assumption. Yeah. This was put on by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Sam Craft: I got to imagine that there’s a federal site or something. The resources are endless and internet just…

Martin Mufich: Yeah.

Sam Craft: You got to be careful what you look for.

Martin Mufich: Sure.

Sam Craft: I’m sure there are a lot of rogue ones too.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And I’m sure a lot of it overlaps too. I mean, each region has different disaster threats.

Sam Craft: Yeah. I wouldn’t see Montana preparing for tornadoes or, I’m sure they get one every once in a while, but for example, you know, I guess we’re not too worried about brush fires and all that kind of stuff. We get them occasionally, but not like the hills, like California and stuff like that.

Martin Mufich: …and Colorado. And to kind of make these, communicate the plan. So people at the coast, they might have relatives up north. Or if you have to evacuate this area, do you know people in the middle of the United States, in Kansas, a relative to say, “Here’s the plan. If we need to evacuate, guess who’s knocking on your door? It’s us.”

Sam Craft: I never thought about that.

Martin Mufich: Right.

Sam Craft: That’s a good point.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And I heard, and I don’t know if it was from the first disaster podcast we brought you on for, but I heard that it’s good to have a point of contact outside of your area. So if other family members can’t reach you, then you can tell that one point of contact and they know to call them.

Sam Craft: It’s pretty much like an emergency contact. Like you fill out on medical forms.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah and everybody knows who.

Sam Craft: Yeah.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. This is the point person in wherever that is. And then conversely, that person, if he hears of an event happening in that area, they can try to reach out.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And you mentioned those, the go-kits. I think that’s a pretty big part to this.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. And this is another good thing that’s on the website. It’s items such as food and water. Some examples is they talked about a three day supply of nonperishable food, a gallon of water per day for each person and pet. Right? A manual can opener. So along with that you’re talking about first aid, medications. And medications is another thing to be really mindful of and if you have medications that require refrigeration, that’s a consideration, like…

Sam Craft: Insulin.

Martin Mufich: Insulin. Exactly. If you have a, you’re kind of thinking glass half empty. What do we do in the event that this happens? Communications, they come out with these little portable chargers now that can help with a phone if your phone starts to head south on you.

Other items, like if you are sheltering in place, things that you would need to do and just practicing this. I think we talked about in a previous podcast about practice it, put it on your calendar. Maybe when you, when the fire department says when you change out your air filters, change out the batteries in your smoke alarm, check-out to be sure you know where everything is and know where your family knows where everything is. And especially food. Be sure that that’s up to date. You know if there’s anything may be expired.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And what does practicing actually look like? Is that everybody physically escaping the house if there’s a pretend house fire? Or is that just making sure your children know what to expect?

Martin Mufich: I think it’s just reminding everybody that, however often you want to do it, whether it’s once every three months or once a year, it can just be really a conversation now. Do we need anything? And especially just that conversation. “Wow, my medications have changed. I need to change that.” Right? “What’s happened in the last six months that we need to update our information and are we still square on all this?” If you have a falling out with Uncle Bob up in Kansas, “Oh yeah. We got to find another relative to go visit.”

Mary Leigh Meyer: And I bet there is a difference in preparing for one of those situations where you stay put and you shelter-in-place, versus when you suddenly have to evacuate and leave.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. And that brings up a great point in that, when do you do, we hear about people on the coast. It’s like going, “I’ve lived through everything and I’m not leaving. I don’t care. I grew up here, I was born here.” type stuff. But really need to kind of think about what effect that might have on you and your family. And there is specific information about sheltering-in-place. If you’re going to be in the house. One of the items, plenty of water, food, of course.

One thing that I didn’t think about until some previous training I had was the plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal doors, windows and air vents from contaminated air in the event that there’s a lot of air that’s contaminated. And this is more of like a, we always, I shouldn’t say always, but you think of natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. But in the event of like a chemical type thing that’s up in the air or a lot of smoke. And the wonderful thing about Texas, if this happens, you really shouldn’t use your air conditioner, because it’s just bringing that air in, right? So that type of stuff.

Mary Leigh Meyer: That makes everything so much more difficult, especially with different medications. Because for some, you aren’t really supposed to keep out in the heat too long. So you definitely do need to think those types of things through and have that plan.

Martin Mufich: The bad news about hurricanes is that they’re terrible. The good news is that or any type of natural disaster or any type of disaster, but you learn a lot. So if you remember back around when Katrina came through the, there wasn’t any established routes. And so now if you drive down by Houston you’ll see like a hurricane route to where everything that, instead of people trying to go to Houston, everybody’s coming from away from that area.

Sam Craft: Yeah. All the traffic flow is coming north.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. So there’s been a lot of funding and some recent research papers I saw. Another great thing that happened is that there is more communication between the hospitals like there is in, there was an alliance of the hospitals in Houston to where, “Okay if happens, we’re sending this, this, this, this, this here.” And it seems to work really quite well for Hurricane Harvey.

Mary Leigh Meyer: And that is what makes it so exciting what your new title is doing here, is that all those hospitals have to collaborate and everybody just kind of has to form together, and we’re training our students to do that.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. And I think that that’s, as we become more involved, I don’t want to say that every entity does it, but now in this new role, I’ve had the availability to go to some meetings. So there’s the Brazos Valley Healthcare Coalition, to where there’s all these County entities plus people from all the hospitals. And so as we become more, better ingrained, better embedded with those organizations, we can start bringing our students to kind of see, “Oh, okay, this is how it works.”

Sam Craft: So, a side note, we did have a medical student here that delivered a baby during Hurricane Harvey in Houston. It was one of her neighbors, I think, that they couldn’t get out to the hospital and she just happened to be next door.

Martin Mufich: Wow.

Sam Craft: So that was a pretty neat thing. And kudos to her, because the pressure of that…

Martin Mufich: Yeah.

Sam Craft: … during the middle of the storm, this was not, this was during the actual storm.

Mary Leigh Meyer: I could not imagine. Especially when she’s also dealing with the repercussions of the storm.

Sam Craft: Yeah. I can’t even…

Mary Leigh Meyer: But that’s something I’ve heard too. That pregnancy…

Sam Craft: Like the stress can bring on…

Martin Mufich: Yeah. Stress induced.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah. That’s also another consideration that people need to take but that they don’t realize they need to.

Sam Craft: Well not just pregnancy, but I mean just anxiety and stress and emotions tend to flare when you’re scrambling trying to try to prepare your, it’s just like chaos sometimes.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Yeah. I heard some stat, something like in an emergency the average person thinks two grade levels…

Sam Craft: …like slower or…

Mary Leigh Meyer: … slower or like two… Yeah, something along those lines. The average person doesn’t think…

Sam Craft: Are they’re just overlooking things because they’re trying to think really fast.

Mary Leigh Meyer: … as well. It’s like they think in a panic and they don’t think through everything. They don’t necessarily make the right decisions in the heat of the moment.

Martin Mufich: So there’s some interesting research coming out of which I know very little. But it’s the idea of the limbic system, which is if you… Accidentally, a car kind of comes out in front of you and you kind of get that surge of adrenaline and you’re not thinking right quick. People that are trained responders, will take, have certain strategies to like, “Okay. This is bad.” And then that just kind of goes to the back of their brain and then they can just proceed down that line. So there are, there’s research being done, strategies being, where you can adapt to these types of situations to where you know it’s not good but this is what we have to do.

Sam Craft: Well, it’s interesting because some people in that scenario that you just described, there are certain people that just see it as like, they talk about going into like slow motion and being able to adjust. And other people are like “It just, it happened so fast, like I blacked out,” or it’s along those lines. So, it’s interesting that if there is something there that you can mentally prepare yourself for that, for something like that to happen.

Martin Mufich: Yeah. And just kind of, repetition is another factor with that. Another kind of get away from that was that the idea of a disaster happens, right? So, within the first 48 hours, 36 to 48 to 72 hours, depending on the extent of the damage, the different entities, whether it’s county, state, national, come and help. But after a while they go back.

And so the idea of this recovery piece is getting a lot of attention and a lot of funding because we see a lot of what they call a secondary surge at the hospital. So all of a sudden you survived the initial insult. You survived the hurricane, the tornado, but then all of a sudden your hospital isn’t there. And people who have chronic diseases, all of a sudden they start to come in, and they have nowhere to go or they don’t have access to medication.

Mary Leigh Meyer: That’s such a good point. I remember in Houston, a lot of my out-of-state friends were experiencing their first big hurricane. And they prepared to get them through the storm, but did not necessarily think that the infrastructure might be down or they might not physically be able to leave their home. You almost have to…how do you prepare for that kind of unknown, indefinite infrastructure?

Martin Mufich: Well I think the first thing is to consider it and say what happens, because in many places, and it’s still, recovery can take up to years for a community depending on what’s happened. Whether it’s bridges are washed out or the electricity, whatever gets affected. And so you might have to say, what happens if we have to go somewhere else for a year? Or get another job? Where would it be? Just have those, have those conversations and be thinking about that and then hopefully plan accordingly.

Mary Leigh Meyer: What else do you think our listeners need to know about preparing for disasters?

Martin Mufich: Well, kind of going back to the first of this podcast, there’s resources out there. And there’s resources in your community. And basically you just have to start asking. There may be a resources through your church. There’s Red Cross. There’s a plethora that the county, the county health department, there’s always ways that you can find it.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Okay. I think that’s getting close to time. Any final thoughts?

Martin Mufich: No, I just really appreciate the opportunity to come and talk about disaster preparedness at the Health Science Center. I believe there’ll be a link to get some more information and then if you need some more information about maybe what we can do at the A&M Health Science Center to help expose more people to disaster education, that would be great.

Sam Craft: Yeah, so be sure to read the show notes. I think Mary Leigh will include all that in there. Links that he’s described and any more that we can, or he can think of for us.

Mary Leigh Meyer: Of course. Well, thank you. It’s always fun to have you come over!

Martin Mufich: Thank you.

Sam Craft: Congratulations again on your big new title.

Martin Mufich: Thank you.

Sam Craft: Your new role here.

Martin Mufich: Appreciate it!

Mary Leigh Meyer: Thank you all for listening. This has been another episode of Sounds Like Health.

Resources: 

National Preparedness Month

Texas Ready

Preparing Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency: A Checklist