Updated February 5, 2008
Natural disasters and severe weather, such as a flood, earthquake, blizzard, hurricane or extreme heat, can have significant health implications. Knowing what to do in an emergency is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.
Pathologists, doctors who are trained to quickly identify and diagnose infectious diseases, know the importance of reducing the spread of disease by taking a few key preventive steps and being prepared.
To help be prepared, it is most important that you have your own disaster survival kit in place, as well as a well thought out family emergency plan.
Here are a couple of checklists to get you started:
- Bottled water – lots of it
- 3-5 day supply of non-perishable foods, such as cereal and granola bars
- Waterproof first aid kit*
- Soap or alcohol based hand gel
- Special needs and medications such as prescription antibiotics, asthma inhalers, epinephrine, etc.
- Chlorine bleach or iodine tablets
- Safety pins
- Flashlight and spare batteries and bulbs
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
- Lighter or matches in a zip-lock bag
- Fire extinguisher
- Pop-top canned foods including vegetables, soups, fruits, meats
- Duct tape
- Tissues in zip-lock bags
- Small mirror/signal device
- Lightweight blanket
- Electrolyte replacement solution, such as Gatorade
- Big trash bags
- Rubber boots
- Extra jacket or windbreaker
*Suggestions to include in first aid kit:
- Bandage strips (better known as Band-Aids)
- Zip-lock bags
- Vinyl or latex gloves
- General purpose gauze pads
- One roll of cloth tape
- Anti-diarrhea medications
- Anti-constipation medications
- Hot/cold packs
- Ibuprofen or aspirin
NOTE: Check the items in your disaster survival kit annually to ensure expiration dates are still valid and that nothing needs to be replaced, especially the canned goods and other non-perishable foods.
- Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another.
- Determine a place where you and your family will meet if you should get separated during a crisis.
- Learn about the potential emergencies that could happen where you live (e.g., tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.) and the appropriate way to respond to them.
- Be informed about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government.
- Short bouts of diarrhea and upset stomach, as well as a cold or other respiratory disease sometimes occur after a natural disaster, particularly among large groups of people in a shelter. Basic hygiene measures, like frequent hand washing or use of an alcohol hand gel, can help prevent the spread of diseases.
- Treat all cuts seriously. Even minor cuts that appear to need Neosporin or another antibiotic cream should be washed thoroughly with CLEAN water to prevent serious illnesses like staph or streptococcal infections.
- Realize that during and after a crisis, victims, recovery workers and volunteers may not be thinking as rationally as usual under stress.
- Beware of stray or dangerous wild animals – call authorities to handle. Also beware of biting and stinging insects. Get rid of dead animals according to local guidelines.
- Be wary of electrical and fire hazards, and other hazardous materials. If skin or eyes come into contact with hazardous materials, flush immediately with decontaminated water.
- Protect mental health.
- Sleeplessness, hyperactivity, mild depression and lethargy are normal parts of the recovery process.
- If acute stress and anxiety occur, or if you are injured or sick, be sure to seek prompt medical care.
- Let children know it’s O.K. to be upset after a trauma.
To prevent illness from water:
To prevent illness from food, identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat. This may include:
- Follow public announcements, especially about the status of tap water safety.
- Tap water may be unsafe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. Directions usually indicate to use bottled water or boiled or disinfected water. However, it’s important to remember that boiling toxic water kills bacteria but not hazardous materials like gasoline.
- In the event water is deemed safe to be boiled (and is NOT considered toxic), prepare as follows: Maintain water at continuous boil one minute to kill bacteria; add one-eighth teaspoon household chlorine bleach per gallon of water; let stand 30 minutes.
- Chlorine or iodine tablets may also be used to kill dangerous organisms.
- For infants, use only pre-prepared, canned ready-to-use formulas.
- If there is warning, fill your bathtub with water in advance of a disaster. That water could provide another source of decontaminated water after the disaster hits.
- In the case of a flood or hurricane, all food may have come in contact with flood or storm water.
- Canned foods that are opened or damaged. Any food with an unusual odor, color or texture.
- Perishable foods left above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
- It is possible to salvage thawed foods with ice crystals. These can be re-frozen or cooked.
- Canned foods that are safe must have labels removed and be dipped in a solution of 1 cup household bleach per five gallons of water. (Children’s toys can be cleaned the same way.)
These disaster preparedness checklists are provided as a public service by the College of American Pathologists. The College is a medical society that serves nearly 16,000 physician members and the laboratory community throughout the world. It is the world's largest association composed exclusively of pathologists and is widely considered the leader in laboratory quality assurance. The College of American Pathologists is an advocate for high-quality and cost-effective medical care.
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