A disaster kit with some contents like matches, water and batteries showing.

You asked: How can I prepare for a disaster?

Whether natural disasters or personal emergencies, the unexpected happens and you need to be prepared
February 12, 2019

Disasters disrupt thousands of lives every year. You don’t know when disaster may happen in your community, but you can still prepare. Depending on where you live, you can plan for disasters that could occur in your area—earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc. Angela Clendenin, PhD, instructional assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, discusses ways you can prepare yourself and those you love for an emergency.

Create an emergency preparedness plan

The first step for being properly prepared for an emergency is to create a plan. Everyone in your home needs to know the plan. “People should consider the needs of their specific household, as well as the needs of any elderly family members close by that may need assistance,” added Clendenin. “Families with young children and pets also need to take extra considerations.”

The American Red Cross recommends that everyone should identify potential evacuation routes and shelters. They also suggest households with more than one person to choose two places to meet in case of emergency. One should be right outside your home and the other outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home.

If your household includes people that live elsewhere during parts of the year like college students, be sure your plan can adapt to include them. Also, if you are responsible for individuals outside of your household, like elderly parents or others that may need extra assistance, be sure to consider their needs.

“Everyone needs to know exactly what to do and where to go in case of emergency,” added Clendenin. “Make sure children understand what to do in case of separation. People need to have these conversations before an emergency, so start planning now.”

Assemble a disaster kit

“Generally, best practice is to have some sort of ‘go-kit’ ready in case there is an immediate need to evacuate,” Clendenin explained. “Among other things, it should have three days of supplies for each person.” These kits should include things like water, non-perishable foods and other essential survival items.

In many emergencies, cable, electric and cellphone service will be disabled, so usual means of communication may be impossible. A well-prepared disaster kit should include a written list of important phone numbers. You should consider including numbers for physicians, hospitals, shelters and family members. Similarly, you should keep copies of important family documents like birth certificates and lists of medications as well. For extra protection, you should keep these documents in a waterproof bag within the disaster kit.

“Each person should keep a list of every prescribed medication and respective dosage in their kit. They need to note how much medication they currently have and keep a log,” Clendenin said. “In the case of disasters known about upfront, like hurricanes or even wildfires, everyone should plan to receive early refills from their pharmacy.” Even if your prescription is not up for refill, many states allow pharmacists to make medically necessary exceptions during emergency situations.

Levels of preparedness

“Emergencies like house fires or accidental poisonings may only affect you on an individual level. However, some emergencies like landslides or hurricanes affect entire communities,” Clendenin said. “They can happen at any time and can impact you in different ways. You need to prepare for everything.”

Much like how individuals prepare for disasters, health care providers prepare for the unexpected as well. When demand for health care is high and resources are short, health care providers of all disciplines need to be ready at a moment’s notice.

To prepare its students, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hosts Disaster Day—the largest student-led interprofessional emergency response simulation in the country. During this event, students from the colleges and schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences work in teams to respond to the simulated disaster.

“Disaster Day is one of the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s most successful interprofessional training events,” said Clendenin. “Our students gain invaluable experience working with other health professions to respond to a disaster.”

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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