Hurricane tips that patients and health professionals should know

If you’ve seen the news recently, you know that emergencies can happen unexpectedly in communities just like yours, to people like you. We’ve seen tornado outbreaks, river floods and flash floods, historic earthquakes, tsunamis, and even water main breaks and power outages in U.S. cities affecting millions of people for days at a time and now Hurricane Irene is coming. Health care professionals should be ready too.

I was never concerned about weather patterns beyond the four seasons of the New York City atmosphere. It’s worth noting that my grandmother was born just off the Savannah River in the night of a storm, she’s lived in New York for over 75 years, but continues to pay close attention when joint pain and a distinct stiffness combine with an inner sense telling her body that a storm is coming soon. I remember her strict commands that all electrical appliances should be shut off and no one should talk on the phone. We’d sit quietly and still, far away from windows with shutters closed. When the clap of loud thunderstorms came, she’d say “hush now God’s talking” eventually there would be storytelling about dark nights, lightening strikes, flooding, other disasters and lives lost in the her South Carolina homeland. We’d also listen to radio reports.

The changing temperatures and severity of recent natural disasters around the world now have me following weather patterns and my storytelling prompt is the memory of  Hurricane Ivan. My field report published in The New Physician magazine conveys early reflections on the traumatic experience of Ivan. While many years have passed, a residue of emotions and feelings still surface under the right conditions.  The sudden approach of certain hues of grey in the sky, the hint of a sweet smell of moisture in the air, winds whistling gently stirring trees refresh my memory.  It was a warm, clear, blue sky day filled with sunshine when the forecast of Hurricane Ivan was announced.  In the early hours looking at the dopplers on CNN, we thought the storm might pass despite technological and sensory intelligence to the contrary. Within moments, the daylight disappeared, darkness emerged and the power failed soon thereafter.  The results:

“Catastrophic damage to Grenada and heavy damage to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and the western tip of Cuba. After peaking in strength, the hurricane moved north-northwest across the Gulf of Mexico to strike Gulf Shores, Alabama as a strong Category 3 storm, causing significant damage. Ivan dropped heavy rains on the Southeastern United States as it progressed northeast and east through the eastern United States, becoming an extratropical cyclone.”

The ear-popping pressure systems created by the wind should not be under-estimated, you can be blown away, physically. The effect of continual downpours with rising tides can trigger a real threat to life when water is everywhere.  Storm surges, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding are the hallmarks of hurricane hazards.

Are you prepared for disaster? “ Preparing for the Unexpected” is the course that I taught for the American Red Cross course, I continue to serve on a volunteer medical reserve corps and have Advanced Disaster Life Support certification, these skills enhance medical education and advance public health strategies.

“Individuals and families are the most important members of the nation’s emergency management team.” Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator

Here are my notes on family disaster plans:

  • Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family. Know your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind.
  • Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home for each hurricane hazard. In certain circumstances the safest areas may not be your home but within your community.
  • Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet. These should be measured in tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles.
  • Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.
  • Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911.
  • Check your insurance coverage – flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
  • Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit.
  • Use a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace its battery every 6 months, as you do with your smoke detectors.
  • Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.

Visit Ready.gov for additional details, including these three steps.

  1. Get a Kit: Keep enough emergency supplies on hand for you and those in your care – water, non-perishable food, first aid, prescriptions, flashlight, battery-powered radio – for a checklist of supplies visit Ready.gov.
  2. Make a Plan: Discuss, agree on, and document an emergency plan with those in your care. Work together with neighbors, colleagues and others to build community resilience.
  3. Be Informed: Free information is available to assist you from federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial resources. You can find preparedness information by: Accessing Ready.gov to learn what to do before, during, and after an emergency.

Police, fire and rescue may not always be able to reach you quickly, such as if trees and power lines are down or if they’re overwhelmed by demand from an emergency. The most important step you can take in helping your local responders is being able to take care of yourself and those in your care; the more people who are prepared, the quicker the community will recover.   

Katherine Ellington is a medical student who blogs at World House Medicine.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Reznick/100000549195050 Steven Reznick

    Have several weeks of non perishable food and water available.  Make sure you have a supply of prescription medicines for several weeks as well. If your medical needs require electricity or administration of oxygen put in an application to a special needs shelter well in advance of a coming storm.  Make sure you have cash currency since with no power ,credit card machines and ATM’s may not work. Purchase an inexpensive rotary or push button phone and a land line. The low voltage phone services can continue to work long after cell service has been knocked out.
    It is not sufficient to know how to call 911. In many communities hospital emergency rooms shutter up and lock down until hurricane force winds have subsided. EMT wagons, firetrucks and police do not go out on the roads in many communities once the wind reaches 35 miles per hour. Find out what the policy is in your community.
    Ask your local hospital medical staff office what their hurricane policy is. Ask your doctor how he/she can be reached after a storm? Very often if the power is out and even if there is no structural damage to a physicians office, the local fire officials will not permit the physicians to open their offices until electricity is working  and the buildings fire alarm warnings are working.