‘Disasters don’t plan ahead. You can.’

Last week the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey–the first hurricane to hit the state of Texas since 2008–made landfall. Its intense tornado-like winds and powerful rains have caused catastrophic flooding and severe damage. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Brock Long has called the storm the “worst disaster in the state’s history.” Here in New England, the past few years have brought devastating weather-related events including blizzards, coastal flooding and unprecedented tornadoes.

“These terrible situations have really highlighted the importance of emergency preparation efforts,” says Paul Biddinger, MD, director of the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine. “Disaster can strike at any moment. We encourage our employees, patients and visitors to make sure they are ready to respond to a disaster both at work and at home. September is National Preparedness Month and there is no better time to discuss with your family what each person’s role is in an emergency, how you will get to a safe place and how you will communicate once you are there. You should also create an emergency kit with essentials for 72 hours, or review the contents of your kit to ensure expired items are replaced and all electronics and equipment still work.”

Detailed resources and printable templates are available on the www.ready.gov site, created by FEMA. Some helpful guidelines are below.

Household plans

Start your emergency plan by discussing these four questions with your family, friends or household:

--How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings? Remember text messages are often more reliable in an emergency, given service disruptions, and whenever possible, keep cell phones and mobile devices charged.

--What is my shelter plan? Remember to establish meeting locations both locally as well as out of state.

--What is my evacuation route? Remember to establish alternate routes in case certain areas are impassable or plans must change quickly.

--What is my family/household communication plan? Remember also to establish an out-of-state communication contact in case cellular service becomes unavailable.

From these answers, draft the emergency plan and keep it in an easily accessible location. Practice the plan with your family.

Emergency kits:

In an emergency kit, important supplies include the typical three day’s supply of water and non-perishable food, a first-aid kit and flashlight with extra batteries. Remember to have necessary medications on hand.

To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

At the MGH:

--Know your MGH department’s disaster plan and where to report in the case of an emergency. Plans can be found on apollo.massgeneral.org.

--Keep your contact information up to date with your department and in PeopleSoft.

--Take your employee ID home to have immediate access to your badge when you are not at the hospital.

Keep an eye out for more about National Preparedness Month in the MGH daily announcements. For more information about emergency preparedness at the MGH, visit the Center for Disaster Medicine at www.massgeneral.org/disaster-medicine. More information for preparing at home can be found at www.ready.gov/kit.

This article was published in the 09/01/17 Hotline issue.