How Preparedness & Healthcare Go Hand in Hand
In your day-to-day life, you know how to take care of yourself. You eat a balanced diet, wash your hands regularly and stay active to promote good health. These are all basic things that are relatively easy to do in normal circumstances. But what happens when your circumstances become anything but normal?
In a disaster situation, your entire world could get flipped upside down, and your regular healthy habits might be a lot harder to manage. While you can’t guard against every inevitability, certain preparedness steps may help you maintain your health and safety during crisis situations. Take time now to make emergency plans so that you’ll find it easier to stay well when disaster strikes. To honor National Preparedness Month, we’re highlighting how preparedness and healthcare go hand in hand.
You’re accustomed to turning on the tap to brush your teeth or get a drink. During a natural disaster, the public water supply could be cut off. Even if the sink is still running, a water main break or other problem could contaminate the supply.
Catching a water-borne illness is the last thing you need during an emergency, so it’s a good idea to stock up on clean water ahead of time. You’ll be able to use the water not only for drinking but also for cooking and washing.
Experts advise that your stash should have one gallon of water per person per day. It’s smart to have at least three days’ worth of water in storage, but some people prefer to have up to 14 days’ worth.
You can store fresh water in clean milk or soda jugs, but you can also buy gallons of distilled water at grocery stores for less than a dollar each. Be sure to refresh your supply every six months, and toss any jugs that look iffy before then, especially if they’ve been punctured or damaged in any way.
In an extended power outage, you won’t be able to rely on your refrigerator and freezer to keep food safe. Eating perishable food that’s held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours could lead to food poisoning. And since you may not have access to as much clean water as you normally would, you’ll want to avoid getting an illness that demands proper hydration.
Keep a supply of shelf-stable goods on hand so you don’t risk getting sick. Food that can be eaten without heating is best because you may not have access to a means of cooking. Suggestions include:
- Canned proteins, like tuna, chicken, other meats and nut butters
- Ultra-pasteurized boxed milk
- Canned vegetables and fruit
- Shelf-stable granola bars, cereal bars and protein bars
If you have children who need formula, stock up on the ready-made kind that doesn’t require water or heating. It can be a bit pricey, but it’s for emergencies. If you keep extra cans of formula, you’ll need to keep extra jugs of water to prepare it. For pet owners, keep some extra water and pet food with your emergency supplies. Even if your pet usually eats dry food, include wet food as well since your water supply may be limited during an emergency.
And don’t forget about what the Ready.gov site calls “comfort foods.” Emergencies are stressful for anyone. We might not normally encourage stress-eating, but in this case, having a supply of shelf-stable chocolate on hand – or whatever gives you a moment of calm – could take the edge off the situation.
That said, don’t forget to include nonperishable foods with as many nutrients as possible. Canned produce loses some nutritional value, but it’s better than nothing. Also, pay attention to expiration dates and switch out your stockpile as needed.
You know to wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating, but a limited supply of clean water during a crisis can make that challenging. To compound the problem, poor sanitation may cause illnesses to spread faster than usual in the aftermath of a disaster, especially if you’re sharing close quarters with others in a temporary shelter. Washing your hands with plain soap and water is more effective at stopping the spread of norovirus – a particularly unpleasant gastrointestinal virus – than anything else.
When you can’t use soap and water, hand sanitizer can be an effective means of killing many germs. Alcohol-based sanitizers can kill more than 99 percent of germs on your skin. Use hand sanitizer like you would normal handwashing, i.e., rub it into your skin for at least 15 seconds and let it dry completely. The effects don’t last long, but they can keep you safer than nothing in a pinch.
Like food and water, hand sanitizer can expire after a while. Pay attention to the expiration dates so you can buy new bottles as necessary.
You may not have ready access to a doctor or nurse during a disaster. Roads might be closed, ambulances could have a hard time reaching you or any number of things could prevent you from getting the help you need. High-stress situations may also raise blood pressure to the point of concern for people with heart problems. Make sure you’ve got an extra supply of your medications on hand for emergencies.
This can be problematic with prescriptions, since most pharmacies don’t allow stockpiling of medicine. If you depend on medication to live and function, such as a daily hormone for thyroid disorders, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about keeping an extra bottle of medicine on hand, especially during the months when emergencies are more likely and especially if your area tends to get snowed in.
For more common ailments, like headaches or back pain, keep a few bottles of your preferred OTC pain reliever with your emergency supplies. Other medications to keep on-hand include antacids for heartburn, something to treat gastrointestinal discomfort, multivitamins and any child-specific medications for your kids.
While you’re stocking your emergency medicine supplies, pick up a complete household first aid kit or create your own. Essential supplies include (but aren’t limited to):
- Waterproof adhesive bandages in different sizes
- Pure petroleum jelly or another type of plain barrier paste
- Antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone cream
- Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol
- Elastic bandages, gauze and medical tape
- Tweezers, safety pins and a thermometer
You don’t have to be CPR-certified to weather an emergency, but it is a good idea to know some basic medical aid in a crunch. The American Red Cross offers mobile apps with first aid tips and demonstrations for free via the App Store and Google Play. And if you’ve got children, you should learn CPR anyway. You can take a local class or watch videos online for basics.
Emergencies naturally generate high stress and anxiety. It may not be possible to remain completely calm during every disaster, but staying on top of what’s happening could ease some of the burden. And since your phone may die or cell towers may go down – not to mention the internet in general – you’ll need a way to stay informed and communicate during a crisis.
To make sure that you stay up to date on important information, such as details about rescue services, boil orders or downed power lines, get an emergency radio. Plenty of options exist, from basic models to ones with lots of bells and whistles. This is an area where you don’t want to skimp. Choose a model that can be powered with at least two different methods (solar and battery, for example) and one that functions well. Some emergency radios can even act as a charger for your phone, at least enough to get it working again during an outage.
If your radio requires batteries, toss in a few extra packs with your emergency supplies box. You can never have enough batteries.
Major storms can damage your roof, which may allow rain inside your home. This can lead to mold issues that linger long after the initial incident. Long-term exposure to indoor mold may cause respiratory health problems, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
If your roof gets damaged, do your best to cover the hole as quickly as possible. By keeping tarps and tools at home, you won’t have to scramble to the store in hopes of finding a few items left on the shelf. Make sure that your emergency preparedness stockpile is equipped with a large, heavy-duty tarp plus nails, a hammer, roofing cement and long boards to hold the tarp to the roof.
You don’t need to completely remodel your home in the midst of an emergency, but patching things up as you go could help you prevent more serious damage later. If your home seems beyond repair at the moment, get to a shelter as soon as you can. In the meantime, make sure you’ve got tents and sleeping bags on hand for safe sleeping.
During a winter power outage, staying warm can be a serious concern. Out of desperation, some people try to heat their homes by turning on a gas oven or stove. No matter how cold you are, don’t do that. Attempting to heat your home via a gas oven can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Instead, do your best to fend off hypothermia by wearing multiple layers and piling under blankets. Wool is an excellent blanket material to keep on hand because it insulates well. Keep a few blankets per person in your home, plus a few extra for draping over windows and stuffing under draftier doors. For layering, choose long underwear created specifically for that purpose. It will help you retain your body heat.
You can’t guard against every disaster, but you can do your best to be ready for crises when they arrive. With proper preparation, you can increase your chances of staying safe, strong and healthy during emergency situations.