Following a checklist can help you prepare for disaster

May 25, 2014 

Are you prepared to cope with, and recover from, a disaster or health emergency? If you answered “no,” you could be vulnerable during a disaster, putting your health or the health of a family member at risk.

We are all vulnerable to some extent, depending on our health, economics, access to care, levels of fear and social networks. The more vulnerable we are, the higher the risk to our health during disasters. Many of us recall past disasters in which people suffered and died. Recognizing, working with and preparing for our vulnerabilities before disaster strikes can go a long way toward decreasing suffering in an emergency.

Our community is prone to natural disasters, including flooding, earthquakes and volcanic activity. We can do little to change that. However, we can take the following easy steps to reduce health risks during a disaster.

Step one: Take an inventory of your personal health.

 • What medications do you and your family members need? Have a three-day supply of medications on hand in the event of an emergency. Disasters can interrupt basic health care services, and you might not be able to get to a pharmacy or doctor for days.

 • Are you and your family current on immunizations? This is the first line of defense in preventing communicable diseases. Many disasters have two phases: the initial disaster, followed by an outbreak of disease. Being current on your vaccines makes you less vulnerable during the outbreak phase.

 • Are you prepared for any special health needs? For example, if you are on dialysis, do you have a plan to get treatment and get to appointments? If you need electricity for medical equipment, do you have a generator?

 • Do you have a record of your medical problems and an up-to-date list of your current medications in your wallet? That can help emergency medical care providers take better care of you if they come to your home or need to evacuate you.

Step two: Have what you need at home to stay healthy in an emergency.

 • Do you have a basic disaster supply kit that includes a three-day supply of food, water and necessities for your family? If not, go to ready.gov and click on “Build a Kit.” Include your pet in the plan.

 • If you need outside help to take care of medical needs, do you have a plan for who will take care of you in an emergency? Make a plan now and have a list of people and services you can depend on.

Step three: Get to know your neighbors.

Studies show that loneliness can affect a person’s quality of life and overall health. Developing strong social networks is important at any time, but it is even more so during a disaster. The more isolated we are, the more vulnerable we are. If you have neighbors with health concerns, you might be the one who gets them needed medical care; your neighbors might do the same for you.

Step four: Start now.

We know that health is more than health care alone. Reducing risks and engaging with others are ways we can become more resilient and remain healthy. Thurston County and its community partners promote resiliency through the Thurston Thrives initiative.

Being prepared for disasters makes us less vulnerable to their consequences. You’ll be healthier in the future because of your time and effort now.

Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.

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