Public Health and Emergency Preparedness

When an emergency takes place, are you prepared? Do you know how to handle all of the issues that can arise during a disaster? When panic starts to set in, it’s important to take a step back, ensuring the safety of you and those around you. At the same time, you want to be prepared for what lies ahead. Those with a plan in place often feel more confident about their success in the face of adversity. It’s also a good idea to take things one step further and make sure that you have emergency supplies on hand, making the transition through the situation a little bit easier. As soon as possible, locate a public health practice nearby in case there is a problem that you can’t handle on your own.

Prevent Illness

After a disaster, there are lots of different things that can make a person sick. Bacteria, viruses, and even mold can get out of control if proper hygiene isn’t adhered to. Infectious diseases tend to spread quickly, especially when a large group of people are all seeking shelter together. Consistent handwashing and keeping your living area clean are great ways to combat this concern. When the disaster is over and you’re headed back home, remember that this space may need to be disinfected before it is inhabitable again.

Sometimes, unexpected situations can cause illness. For example, keep in mind that animals can be another source of disease or unsanitary conditions. Avoid stray animals and protect yourself from insects that can sting or bite. In an emergency situation, you don’t want to take any risks with your health. Carbon monoxide poisoning is another cause for concern, as most people don’t even realize it is happening. Make sure that you are using things like grills, generators, and even stoves outside of a confined space to avoid CO poisoning.

Prevent Injury

When a disaster hits, there are lots of opportunities for injuries. While evacuating an area or avoiding inclement weather, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Once things begin to settle down, there are still things to be aware of that carry a risk of injury. If you’re going to be operating any type of machinery, including things like saws or ovens, make sure that you follow the appropriate steps to avoid cuts or burns. You don’t want to make an already difficult situation even worse.

The chances of coming into contact with electrical hazards as well as dangerous materials tend to increase during an emergency situation. Avoidance is always best, but if you do come into contact with chemicals, make sure to wash the skin thoroughly. If you must use any of these chemicals, find protective wear like gloves to keep your skin safe. And if fire or any type of gas is being used nearby, make sure to do everything that you can to prevent a fire. Burns can be difficult to treat during a disaster.

Your best bet is to avoid dangerous situations. This includes areas where there is a fall risk, buildings that could be unstable, or areas filled with water. In each of these scenarios, there is an opportunity for someone to get hurt.

Wound Management

Any type of wound can put a person at risk during a disaster if it isn’t properly cared for. Ideally, a health care professional should look at wounds, but when this isn’t possible, it’s up to you to take care of the issue. Start by taking a closer look at the wound to get a better idea of how serious it is. Also take a closer look at the individual to learn more about their pain level and see if there are any other injuries that need to be addressed first.

If possible, apply pressure on the area to stop the bleeding. If there’s anything in it that could contaminate the wound, do your best to remove it carefully, then clean the area with soap and water if possible. This can prevent infection down the road. Keep the wound dry and covered with a bandage. Contaminated water could be problematic, so avoid allowing the wound to come into contact with it. It’s important to keep an eye on the wound over the course of the next several days to make sure that it is still clean and that signs of infection aren’t starting to show up.

Keep Food and Water Safe

Food and clean water are necessities during an emergency. Some families keep water and nonperishable food to help them get through a difficult time. This is a great idea, as much of the food that you have in the home may need to be thrown out if emergency conditions persist. Food that is perishable and requires refrigeration won’t be safe to consume for long if you don’t have a working refrigerator or cooler. Foods that aren’t in a package or aren’t in a can aren’t going to last long and should be tossed out. If possible, keep your leftover food items in a clean, dry place.

Consuming things that have been contaminated can lead to illness. You don’t want to use contaminated water for washing dishes, brushing teeth, or even preparing food. Water may need to be boiled to ensure that it is safe to drink. (It’s important to note that this will not remove chemicals from the water.) Iodine tablets offer another alternative water treatment option.

Extreme Heat

Disasters and extreme temperatures can create real problems. One of the biggest issues of concern is heat-related illness. While sweating is the body’s way of keeping you cool, it isn’t always enough to keep you safe when temperatures are rising to extremes. If you’ve got a fever or if you’re dehydrated, you are already at a disadvantage. Those who are obese and those with heart disease may also be more likely to suffer symptoms of extreme heat. However, higher temperatures could negatively affect anyone.

Drinking water is one of the best ways to deal with extreme heat. It’s important that the body remains hydrated, especially in emergency situations. Clothing that is loose-fitting and breathable can allow airflow to reduce a person’s overall body temperature. If possible, when the heat is at its highest, consider staying inside until things are cooler.

Suggested Reading:

Vaccines: Invaluable Public Health Tool or Commercial Product?

The Public Health Response to Climate Change

University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Public Health