Do you have a safety plan in place for when an emergency strikes? Being prepared for emergencies like tornadoes, severe thunderstorms flooding, fires, explosions, or active shooters is essential since they can happen out of nowhere.
Before joining the think medical team, I worked in emergency care in an Iowa hospital. The main emergencies we encountered were car accidents and cardiac arrests, but we always had a public emergency plan in place. From medical school on, we trained for the community-wide disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time.
As a family physician, I want my patients and the general public to stay informed and be prepared for emergency situations. The following are emergency preparedness tips and best practices for planning ahead any season of the year.
Proactively plan ahead.
Most every community is at risk for disasters and hazards. Do you know what risks are specific to your home and office in and around Omaha-Council Bluffs? Do you live or work in a flood-prone area? Could large tree branches fall on your property? Investigate where your home and property and business would be most vulnerable during a disaster. Knowing how and when to act in an emergency or hazardous situation can mean the difference between life or death for you and those you love.
Create an emergency communication plan.
You and your family may not all be together when an emergency arises, so you need to think through how to contact each other and how to reconnect if separated. Because I have two grade-school children, they know our family password in case we are not together in a crisis situation and I send someone else to pick them up. The U.S. government’s website, ready.gov lists a helpful form for creating an emergency communication plan. Because older adults and those with disabilities may have limited means to communication channels, be sure to include these family members, friends and neighbors in your emergency preparations.
Make an evacuation and shelter plan.
The American Red Cross focuses on three main priorities when disasters strike: clean water, safe shelter and hot meals. As part of your preparation for disasters and emergencies, be sure to map out which direction you would drive or walk during an evacuation and where you could find safe shelter. Be sure to include safety plans for your pets too.
Gather emergency supplies.
Being ready for an emergency or disaster includes putting together an emergency supply kit that is easily accessible. The following are basic supplies to include, but for a more complete list, see the survival kit supplies from the Red Cross.
- Water (one gallon per person, per day for several days for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (non-perishable, easy-prep items for several days)
- First aid kit
- Flashlight with extra batteries (or solar-powered flashlight)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio is best)
- Medications and medical supplies (i.e. glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- • Cell phone with chargers
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
- Extra cash (smaller denominations are best)
- Pet supplies (food, water, ID, leash, bowl, etc.)
- Books, game and activities for children
Stay updated on every family member’s medical information.
One of the biggest issues we encounter in emergent care is if an injured or ill patient is unable to tell us their medical history, and we can’t quickly access their medical history, medications and allergies via an online records system. Medical teams are often left flying completely blind if we don’t know the patient or we can’t see their chart.
I recommend people stay current with their medical information that they keep in their wallet or on their phone or through a wearable medical ID bracelet. In disasters and emergencies, it’s extra challenging for first responders and emergency departments to scramble to find medical information. Many cell phones now allow people to enter their medical conditions, medications and emergency contacts so first responders can bypass the lock screen and access the patient’s vital medical information.
Safeguard critical documents.
Be sure to keep important documents such as copies of identification, medical records, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. secure in the cloud or on a password-protected flash drive. For extra security (and if you’re not particularly tech savvy) keep these valuable documents in a fire-proof, water-proof safe box that you can take with you in an emergency/evacuation.
Stay informed with alerts and warnings.
Local, state and national emergency agencies continue to improve on ways to notify the public before, during and after an emergency or disaster. Warning alerts include Wireless Emergency Alerts sent as brief messages by public safety officials and the National Weather Service, for example, to any WEA-enabled mobile device in local targeted areas.
The national public warning system, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), allows the U.S. president to address the nation within 10 minutes during a national emergency. State and local authorities may also use the EAS to deliver disaster/emergency details including imminent threats and weather information. FEMA offers an app for receiving real-time weather, emergency alerts, location of shelters and more.
Because mobile phone networks can be unreliable during emergencies, use text messages, social media and email to connect with family and friends. Facebook allows users to easily post their safety status during a time of disaster. To let family and friends know you’re okay during a public emergency, you can also register with the Safe & Well site hosted by the American Red Cross.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and Alert Iowa emergency messaging systems also allow state and local authorities to speedily disseminate emergency information to local residents. Each statewide system is free and available to all counties.
Refresh first aid/CPR skills.
When it comes to medical preparedness, I advise teens and adults to stay current on first aid and CPR skills. You can find first aid and CPR certification classes through local organizations including the National Safety Council for Nebraska and the Red Cross. I do advise in any emergency medical situation to take your own pulse first. Assess your own condition first and help yourself before you help anybody else. Nothing good comes from panic.
Outside of these often life-saving tips for emergency and disaster preparation, I stress the importance of looking out for the older adults in your life whether that’s a grandparent, parent, neighbor or local friend. Often seniors might not have emergency alerts set up on their phones or they might not have the TV or radio on to hear emergency broadcast alerts. Sometimes poor hearing or cognitive decline issues keep elders from knowing about public emergencies. Be kind. Be vigilant in looking for older adults in hazardous situations.
At think, our entire group of healthcare providers want you and everyone in our greater Omaha and western Iowa area to be prepared in any season for public emergencies and disaster threats. We are here for you come rain, shine, tornado, flood, fire or whatever else comes our way. Together prepared, we all stand stronger.
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