Disaster Preparedness: Are You Ready?

Aug 25, 2011, 6:55 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth


Judging by traffic in the last 36 hours on local and federal government social media sites, preparedness has the nation’s attention right now—no surprise given the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the East coast Tuesday and the increasing intensity of Hurricane Irene.

So now might be the very best time to check your “Go Kit” or create one if it isn't already on a shelf in the basement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s latest update on Hurricane Irene offers a strong reason for why those who can prepare a kit with necessities should: While the federal agency, private organizations and state and local agencies and health departments are all preparing resources, those will be most needed, if a hurricane strikes, by people who lack the financial resources to stock up on supplies on their own.

FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both have websites to help prepare individuals, families, schools, companies and health departments in case of an emergency. For consumers, preparing early increases the chance of finding discounts and a wider selection of products.

Even if you’ve packed a kit and checked it twice, some new and updated tips can help if a threat arrives:

  • Several agencies including FEMA (m.fema.gov) and CDC (m.cdc.gov) have just launched mobile versions of their websites which take users directly to emergency information and are formatted for smart phones. Key the URL into a smart phone browser
  • Cell phone circuits clogged up Tuesday across the East Coast from the vast increase in usage as people contacted friends and families in the wake of the earthquake, and that can happen during other emergencies as well. Text messages are more likely to get through than calls during busy periods, and just about all cell and smart phones can send and receive texts, even if the user is not signed up for a plan.
  • People who have supplies and a go bag all ready should ask themselves what has changed since the items were collected. Are prescription drugs up-to-date? Do the spare clothes still fit? Is there a newly-diagnosed food allergy to prepare for?
  • Check chain stores for battery-powered chargers for cell and smart phones to use in case the power goes out, and then stock up on batteries.
  • CDC’s site has a link to a map of all state health departments that can come in handy for updated information if an emergency occurs. Virginia, for example, added information to its site on Wednesday about Hurricane Irene.
  • Need more incentive than an impending hurricane to get prepared? CDC has announced a preparedness video contest. Submit entries from August 29 through September 30.
  • The Department of Heath and Human Services just announced an app challenge. While it’s limited to software application developers, the idea behind it may get even laymen thinking about how Facebook might be used before and after an emergency. According to HHS, the ideal application includes a way for users to identify lifelines, to create and share a personal preparedness plan including health considerations with these lifelines, and to encourage others to use the application.

Weigh In: Has your community updated emergency recommendations?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.