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Managing Your Disaster Response

By Peg Graham and Margie Schustack


View the disaster response checklist
.

As hurricane and storm season unfolds along the East and Gulf Coasts, federal and local governments are encouraging people to prepare for disasters like the 2012 SuperStorm Sandy.

Disasters caused by weather occur all year long.
People who live in areas prone to tornados might not have enough advance notice for any given tornado, but they would be wise to be prepared for the aftermath of a tornado when they may find themselves without electricity, drinkable water and/or telecommunications for an extended period of time due to widespread damage. The same holds true for fires and other disasters.

Those who depend on home medical equipment to manage their activities of daily living, as well as their caregivers, should pay special attention to these messages. Websites such as Ready.gov provide recommendations for seniors (www.ready.gov/seniors) and those living with a disability, access or functional need (www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs). Additional information is available at Ready.gov’s “Preparing Makes Sense for Older Americans” (www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/90375).

Looking at these recommendations can seem daunting. Look at the lists now and figure out the recommendations that make sense for you and the person you care for. As you go through each list, consider your own health status, their health status and the degree to which you will need the help of others should severe storms be a threat in your area. We suggest that you adopt the same kind of preparedness timeline used by government agencies (outlined below). 

Remember that roads, bridges, tunnels and bus/rail/subway systems may be shut down prior to the arrival of a storm. For example, some rail systems may shutdown 12 hours prior to allow time for all rail cars to be stored at elevated sites; bridges and tunnels may close as windspeed increases to dangerous levels. This means that if you usually make purchases online, either by yourself or with the help of family and friends, make sure you submit your orders in time for delivery at least one day before the storm is due to arrive.

You should prepare in the same way that local governments prepare.
Each local jurisdiction looks at what preparations are needed at important intervals before a disaster occurs. The time periods they commonly use are 96 hours, then 72 hours, then 48, 24, and finally 12 hours intervals prior to an upcoming event. At each stage, local government agencies coordinate a review the list of tasks that need to happen to be ready for the event’s arrival.

Here a quick summary of what to focus on:

96 Hours/4 Days Before
Review which of the Ready.gov recommended items are on hand already, which are not useful and can be disregarded, and which need a plan to make sure that everything that is needed arrives before the storm. For example, if you know that you will be needing a prescription filled over the next week, fill it now. If you need your doctor to renew a prescription, call your doctor now. If disposable supplies are used and would normally be ordered sometime over the next week, order now to make sure that supplies will be delivered before the storm. This may be very important because, even after a disaster, there might be widespread loss of power and/or extended closure of bridges/tunnels and railways. If you need to keep your prescriptions refrigerated, make sure you have  a small cooler along with a plan for getting ice into the cooler should that become necessary.

72 Hours/3 Days Before
This is usually the time at which local governments assess the need for evacuation orders. If either you or your loved one live in an evacuation zone, pay attention. This is particularly important for anyone dependent on electrical power for continuous operation of home medical equipment: it is best to comply with evacuation orders – It may be inconvenient to move to a shelter or temporarily stay with friends or family, but it is in your own best interest to not put your life and safety at risk. Remember, by putting yourself at risk, you are asking first responders (the brave fire, police and other rescue personnel) to risk their own life and safety on your behalf. Best for all to just evacuate.


Follow the instructions of your local jurisdiction to request transportation assistance if necessary. Many of them will instruct you to make the request by calling the local emergency number operator, or 311.


48 Hours/2 Days Before
Additional items that you have ordered should begin to arrive. If you are evacuating, this is the time to be making sure that there are sufficient clothes, supplies, prescriptions, and other items in a carryon bag that can be managed, either by wrapping the straps around the handles of a wheelchair or any other way you can make sure that “belongings follow the person.” Make sure that you carry proof of identification on your person.

24 Hours/1 Day Before
Check in with your family and friends to review your communication plan, particularly how you will get back in touch with each other should power/telecommunications be shutdown. At minimum, have a written list of names and phone numbers/email addresses for relatives/friends that live in different parts of the country so that you can establish contact through them to share information regarding your wellbeing.

12 hours Before
If an evacuation has not been ordered, fill the bathtub with water so that there is a way of flushing should the toileting system be comprised. This is particularly critical for those who live in an apartment building or any structure where the plumbing depends on the electrical system. You should also make sure that additional water is stored in the refrigerator. This will be an important source of water should the drinking water supply be disrupted as a result of the storm.

What About After?
In the hours after the event, contact your family and friends to let them know that you, and your home, safely withstood the storm effects and that you are OK. Don’t forget to call your relatives/friends from other parts of the country to thank them for their assistance in making sure that you had a way to connect with your nearby family and friends. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask but if there has been local damage, be prepared for everything taking more time than you think it should. Your patience is also part of the response effort.

You’ll Be Contributing to Your Community’s Ability to Respond to Disasters
By taking the time to prepare yourself for a disaster, you are contributing to “whole community” emergency preparedness planning, making our cities, states, and own homes stronger and more resilient to all kinds of events.

 

Author: Peg Graham (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), MBA, MPH, is the principal owner of QUA INC. The company offers technical assistance to supportive housing and services organizations seeking to build emergency preparedness planning capacity.

Author: Margie Schustack is a graduate student in Gerontology at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. She has years of experience in publishing, marketing, creative management, branding, and communications. She is now also a consultant to a number of organizations serving the aging community. You can reach her through linkedin.