Resolve to Get Ready

A calendar showing January 2022.

The New Year is the time many of us make resolutions for the coming year. Sometimes resolutions feel too big and long-drawn-out to accomplish. As a result, our motivation to see them through can peter out before the end of the year.

This year, instead of making one resolution for the year, make 12 micro-resolutions. Focusing on one thing each month can make it easier for you to reach your goal, whether it’s to quit smoking or prepare your health for emergencies.

Here are some example micro-resolutions you can make this year to improve your personal health preparedness.


January is Get Organized Month. Get organized by creating a checklist of your personal needs. Being organized can help you stay calm during an emergency. Ways to get organized include using checklists to help you collect emergency supplies and scanning important paperwork.


Just 35% of respondents to a recent Healthcare Ready survey said they could list all their prescription details if they had to evacuate their homes without their medicines or medical supplies.(1)

You don’t have to memorize the details of your prescriptions. Instead, make a list of your medicines, including information about your diagnosis, dosage, frequency, and medical supply needs. Make an annual appointment with your doctor to discuss your prescriptions and how you can create an emergency supply of them.


National Proofreading Day is observed in March. Organize, check, correct, and protect your important paperwork, such as medical records, insurance (e.g., flood and earthquake) documents, action plans, etc. Examples of common errors found in medical records include

  • Missing or outdated personal information.
  • Missing information about a new medication or allergy.
  • Missing or incorrect information about your health history or the date of your visit.
  • Mischarges for a test you didn’t have.(2)


Practice your emergency action plan with your entire family, including pets. Take the 10-minute evacuation challenge. Set a timer for 10 minutes. In those 10 minutes, see if everyone can:

  1. Put on long pants, a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt, shoes, and a hat.
  2. Take emergency supplies and other important things to the car.
  3. Find your pets, put them in carriers if they have them, and take them to the car.
  4. Pack the car.
  5. Get in the car and buckle your seatbelt.


May is National Wildfire Awareness Month. Create defensible space if you live in an area prone to wildfires. Defensible space is a buffer you create between your home or another structure on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area around it.


The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends on November 30. Be prepared to evacuate in case you find yourself in the path of a storm:

Learn more ways to prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms.


Emergency supplies expire. Check your supplies regularly so you can be sure they’re safe to use when you need them. Remove, throw away or use, and replace any food and water, prescription medications, and supplies every six (6) months.


August 15 is National Check the Chip Day. Microchipping your pet(s) is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet are reunited if separated during an emergency. Remember to register the microchip with the manufacturer and to keep your contact information up to date.(3)

Also, keep a photo of your pet with your important paperwork to help with identification and as proof of ownership.


Get a flu shot. It’s best to be vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community. September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated against flu. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October. Even if you are not able to get vaccinated until November or later, vaccination is still recommended because flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May.(4)


Participate in emergency drills and exercises like the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill for practice and the peace of mind of knowing how to respond to an earthquake. The Great ShakeOut is held annually on October 21. The drill is an opportunity for you to practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” during an earthquake or aftershock.


Take action to protect yourself and others from carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires. Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and smoke alarms at the beginning and end of Daylight-Saving Time. If you own a generator, know how to operate it safely during a power outage.


There are ways to prepare for emergencies that have nothing to do with collecting supplies. Learning practical skills, like CPR and seizure first aid, is also important to your health preparedness. Many practical skills don’t require special certification or formal training to perform, but you do need education. Seek out local volunteer organizations that can help you learn these types of skills.

There are many ways you can improve your emergency preparedness without being overwhelmed. Doing one thing each month can help you be prepared for an emergency that can happen anytime. Make sure how you prepare aligns with your needs and those of your family.




Stay Informed of Your Family Health History

dinner settingThanksgiving Day is National Family Health History Day

Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions in your family. Most people have family history of at least one chronic disease that makes them more likely to get that disease.(1)

Staying informed of your family’s health history can help you and your doctor prepare for and prevent diseases you are more likely to get and that can affect you later in life.

Do your research

Be informed of your family health and medical histories before your next doctor’s appointment. Even if you don’t know all your health history information, share what you do know.

Collect family health history information through conversations with blood relatives. The most important relatives to talk to are your parents, siblings, and your children. Next, you may want to talk to grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and half-brothers and half-sisters. Ask them questions like:

  • Do you have any medical conditions, including chronic diseases, such as diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure?
  • Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when each of these diseases and health conditions was diagnosed?
  • What is our family’s ancestry – from what countries did our ancestors come to the United States?
  • For relatives who have died, be sure to ask about the cause and their age of death.(2)

Try to gather the following information for each person:

  • Sex assigned at birth
  • Date of birth
  • Ethnicity/Ancestry
  • Medical conditions
  • Mental health conditions, including alcoholism or other substance abuse
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Age when each condition was diagnosed
  • Lifestyle habits, including diet, exercise, and tobacco use
  • For relatives who have died, age at death and cause of death(3)

You might find it useful to look at important family paperwork and vital records. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates are usually available through state and county government offices. Electronic personal health records are a good resource, too.

Use whatever information you collect to create a family health history.

Paint a portrait

The Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” is a free online tool to help you organize and share your family health history information with your doctor and other family members.

Save copies of family health history records, including your family health portrait, to a flash or external hard drive or a secure cloud service. This can help you keep track of the information and ensure it is easily accessible in an emergency.

Update the information in your family health portrait regularly and as the health and medical histories of family members change.

Keep a personal health record

Chronic diseases can be passed down through generations. If you live with a chronic disease(4), keeping a personal health record (PHR) can help future generations better understand their health history. Remember, you’re not doing this to just protect your health, but also to help others.

A PHR is an electronic application that patients can use to maintain and manage their health information. A PHR can also help caregivers, such as those caring for young children, elderly parents, or spouses, manage their patients’ care.(5)

There are many benefits to keeping a PHR. For example, PHRs are protected from the effects of emergencies (e.g., floodwater, fire, and smoke) and accessible when traveling, such as during an evacuation.(5)

The types of information you could put in a personal health record include:

  • Your name, birth date, blood type, and emergency contact information.
  • The date of your last physical exam.
  • The dates and results of tests and screenings.
  • The dates of major illnesses and surgeries.
  • A list of your medicines and supplements, the dosages, and how long you’ve taken them.
  • A list of allergies.
  • A list of chronic diseases, including the date of diagnosis.
  • A history of medical conditions in your family.(6)

Knowing and acting on the information is an important way to prepare and protect your health.





Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Epilepsy and Emergency Preparedness

purple ribbon

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

Epilepsy is common. In 2015, about 3.4 million people reported having active epilepsy in the United States.

Epilepsy is a broad term used for a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. There are many different types of epilepsy.managing epilepsy

A seizure is a short change in normal brain activity.(1) There are also many different kinds of seizures.

People are diagnosed with epilepsy when they have had two or more seizures.

Self-management is what you do to take care of yourself and your health. For people with epilepsy, that includes preparing for and responding to emergencies and disasters.

#PrepYourHealth for an Emergency

People with epilepsy have personal needs to consider when collecting emergency supplies and making an emergency plan.

Here are some other steps a person living with epilepsy can take to prepare for emergencies:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how you can create an emergency supply of medicine if possible. If you miss just 1 dose of medication, you can lose control of your seizures.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or carry some other form of identification. This way, if you have a seizure while in an emergency shelter, first responders will know how to better assist you.
  • Talk to family, close friends, coworkers, and neighbors about how they can help if you have a seizure.
  • Try to find out what triggers your seizures. Flashing lights, sounds, lack of sleep, and stress are triggers for some people. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to avoid seizure triggers during an emergency.(2)

Learn more about epilepsy and emergency preparedness.

Seizure Action Plans

More than a collection of names and phone numbers, an Emergency Action Plan is a user guide for how to stay healthy, informed, calm, and connected in an emergency. A person living with epilepsy should have an emergency action plan that includes a seizure action plan.

People with epilepsy need others to understand their condition. A seizure action plan is used to organize seizure information and inform bystanders and first responders on how to help during a seizure.

A good seizure plan should describe the seizures (seizures may not look like someone would expect) detail how to help (i.e., seizure first aid), and explain when to call 911.

Having a plan in place can help you feel ready for the unexpected.

when to call 911

Helping Others with Seizure First Aid

Seizures are common. About 1 out of 10 people may have a seizure during their lifetime. On

e day you might need to help someone who is having a seizure.(3)

You do not need formal training or special certification to give seizure first aid, but you do need education. Learn what you can do to keep that person safe until the seizure stops by itself.

These are general steps to help someone who is having any type of seizure:

  • Stay with the person until the seizure ends and they are fully awake.
  • Remain calm. Time how long the seizure lasts.
  • Keep the person safe by guiding or moving them from harm.
  • Comfort them and speak calmly.
  • Check to see if they are wearing a medical bracelet.
  • Keep their airway clear and loosen tight clothing around their neck.(3)

Knowing what NOT to do is important for keeping a person safe during or after a seizure. Here’s a list of things you should not do:

  • Do not hold the person down or try to stop their movements.
  • Do not put anything in their mouth.
  • Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth breaths. People usually start breathing again on their own after a seizure.
  • Do not offer person water or food until there are fully alert.(3)

If you are interested in learning more or receiving certification, the Epilepsy Foundation has a free, online seizure first aid course.





Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Rx Prep: National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is October 23

Many of us have a medicine cabinet in our homes. It may contain first-aid supplies, personal hygiene items, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and other personal needs.

Keep tabs on your medicines to help you keep them out of the wrong hands. Each year in the United States, more than 1 million people visit emergency departments for an adverse drug event. An adverse drug events (ADE) is when someone is harmed by a medicine.(1)

Blood thinners, antibiotics, diabetes drugs, and opioid analgesics are the leading cause of emergency department visits for ADEs.(2)

Practicing safe storage and proper disposal of prescription medicines can help keep your family safe and healthy.

Up and Away

Toddlers can be harmed if they get into medicines when no adult is watching. Approximately 50,000 children younger than 5 years old go to emergency departments each year for an ADE.(3)

Emergency visits for kids and pets, too, are preventable if people put medicines up and away after every use. Here are some safe medicine storage practices:

  • Put medicine and vitamins up and away and out of children’s reach and sight.
  • Put medicine and vitamins away every time.
  • At home or away, keep medicines in their original, child-resistant containers.
  • Never leave loose pills or liquid medicine out on a counter, table, or child’s bedside.
  • Lock the safety cap.
  • Teach your children about medicine safety.
  • Ask guests to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicine in them out of children’s reach and sight when they are in your home.
  • Prepare for an emergency. Create an Emergency Action Plan that includes important contact information, such as phone numbers for your physician, pharmacist, veterinarian, and the Poison Control Center: 800-222-1222.(4)

Learn more about safe medicine storage.

Drug disposal

It’s important that you safely dispose of expired, unwanted, or unused prescription medicines. There are several ways to do that.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a semiannual event held in October and April. The campaign teaches people how to dispose of medicines and provides safe and secure locations where they can dispose of their medicines.(5)

The best way to dispose of most types of medicines is to drop them off at a drug take back location.(6) This may be your local pharmacy or police station.

There are other drug disposal options if you cannot get to a Take Back Day location. Flush medicines on the FDA flush list down the toilet. If a child, adult, or pet in your home ingests, touches, misuses, or abuses a medicine on the flush list, they could suffer serious consequences or die.(7)

Dispose of medicines that are not on the flush list in your home trash.

  1. Mix medicines (liquid or pills; do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unappealing substance such as dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw away the container in your trash at home.
  4. Remove personal information from the label of empty medicine bottles and packaging. Throw away or recycle the bottle or packaging.(8)

Learn more about the safe disposal of medicines.




Healthy State of Mind to Cope with an Emergency

October 10 is World Mental Health Day

Mental health is as important as physical health to your overall well-being. Taking care of both your physical and mental health will help you protect yourself and your family for an emergency.

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It can affect how we think, feel, relate to others, and plays a role in how we handle stress and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life.

Emergencies or natural disasters can disrupt our mental health. It’s important to learn how to manage traumatic events that happen during and after an emergency or natural disaster.

A traumatic event is an event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions. They include natural disasters, loss of a loved one, acts of violence (assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings), or car crashes and other types of accidents.

Experiences such as these can cause feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and depression, helplessness, sadness, anger, and other emotions and reactions. These emotions are normal to experience at the onset of a traumatic event, but if they last too long, it can be problematic.(1)

Preparing to deal with the stress and challenges of an emergency is part of personal health preparedness. Knowing how to cope with feelings in healthy ways can help you stay calm, think clearly, and respond quickly during emergencies.

Prep Your Mental Health for an Emergency

Traumatic events and most emergencies are beyond your control. You can lessen their impact on your health and safety by taking steps now to improve your preparedness, develop coping skills, and make social connections. These steps can help you respond to and recover from stressful situations, including emergencies.

Ways of preparing your mental health include:

  • Identifying trusted sources of information, including CDC and your state and local health departments, so you can stay informed during an emergency. When you feel that you are missing important information, you may become stressed or anxious.
  • Learning new and refreshing old practical skills can help you build confidence and better respond in a crisis.
  • Taking care of your body. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, get needed vaccinations (flu and COVID-19), and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.(2)
  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • Connecting with others. It’s important to have strong, healthy relationships. It is also good to have different types of connections.(3) Get involved in your community by helping a neighbor prepare for emergencies or volunteering with an organization active in disaster relief.
  • Making time to unwind. Try to do other activities that you enjoy.(2)

Know the Signs of Distress

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and after a disaster. Everyone copes differently to stressful situations and your feelings can change over time. Stress can cause the following(4):

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

Stress reactions after a traumatic event are very common and may resolve after a few weeks. Know how and where to get professional help if these reactions last longer and interfere with your everyday life.

Care for yourself

Coping skills and self-care activities can help you remain calm in stressful situations.

Making time for self-care and practicing coping skills can help ground you before, during, or after an emergency and help you become more resilient in your everyday life. Taking care of yourself can also better equip you to take care of others.

The most effective self-care and coping skills are those you can practice anywhere at any time. Find a small way each day to care for yourself. Ways to do that include:

  • Practicing gratitude, which means being thankful for the good things in your life.(3) Practicing gratitude can help you keep things in perspective and appreciate moments of positive emotion.
  • Staying connected with friends and family. Talking with people you trust about your feelings and concerns can relieve stress.
  • Helping others. Caring for others in your community can also help you feel a sense of purpose, mindfulness, and gratitude.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises. Relaxation techniques can help slow your breathing, lower blood pressure, and reduce muscle tension and stress.

The How Right Now campaign helps people cope with the effects of a natural disaster or emergency, such as COVID-19 . Visit the campaign website to find information and resources you can use to help yourself and others cope with stress, grief, and loss.

If you are struggling to cope, there are many ways to get help. Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities.(2)

If you are in crisis, get immediate help:




Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.


Risk Communication: Plan with the Whole Community

During a disaster, communication becomes especially critical. Language, accessibility, or other barriers can affect many individuals’ ability to receive, understand, and act on emergency information.

The ability of a community to communicate accurate emergency information, alerts, warnings, and notifications saves lives. Timely and effective messages can inform people on actions to stay safe, take shelter, or evacuate.

What is in the messages and who communicates them to the community is an important element of risk communication.

Why It Matters

There is widespread evidence that emergencies disproportionately impact individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.

The term “access and functional needs” refers to individuals with and without disabilities, who may need additional assistance because of any temporary or permanent condition. That condition may limit their ability to act in an emergency. Individuals with access and functional needs do not require any kind of diagnosis or specific evaluation. These may include but are not limited to

  • individuals with disabilities,
  • individuals with limited English proficiency,
  • individuals with limited access to transportation,
  • individuals with limited access to financial resources,
  • older adults, and
  • others deemed “at risk” by the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPAIA) or the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

FEMA’s whole community approach promotes community participation in emergency planning, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. Integrating community partners into the emergency planning process can help planners better understand and address the needs of the community. These stakeholders should be included in the development of risk communication messages to ensure they are accessible, understandable, and actionable.

Emergency Planning Can Save Lives

During widespread evacuations, transportation systems may be overwhelmed. Understanding the transportation needs of the whole community ahead of an incident will help identify key partners and prioritize communication. Community partners can help widely disseminate messaging to the populations they serve on actions for how to stay safe.

Parents drop off their kids at schools every day assuming they will come home within roughly 8 hours. Yet, in 2014, many Atlanta parents experienced a disaster they never would have predicted.

Icy conditions created by a winter storm paralyzed traffic just as schools were closing. Thousands of children were stranded at schools and on buses. Some children were rescued by firefighters and the National Guard after many cold and hungry hours on buses.

More than 2,000 children spent the night at schools across the metro area.

Some parents spent hours behind the wheel trying to get to their children. Others walked miles through the snow to reunite with children.

Research indicates that over one-third of American households with children are not familiar with their school’s emergency plans. Even more do not know where schools would evacuate their children to during a disaster.

Emergency action plans help everyone know what to do, who to call, and where to reunite in a disaster.

A new CDC resource for emergency planning

CDC developed a toolkit to help emergency planners, such as those for school districts, develop communication plans that consider the needs of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.

The Access and Functional Needs Toolkit is organized in two sections. Section 1 provides examples of groups who may be at greater risk or disproportionately affected in an emergency. This section includes noteworthy practices, key considerations, tips, and resources for effective communication with these groups.

A second section outlines a process and recommended action steps to integrate a network of community partners into risk communication strategies. It provides customizable tools and instructions, templates, worksheets, and noteworthy partner engagement practices. The resources can help create documentation to institutionalize partner engagement practices and identify areas for improvement.

Government agencies and community organizations can use the toolkit’s worksheets and templates to guide their emergency plans and communication strategies.


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

More Than Meals: MOW Delivers Preparedness, Response Help

This student-authored post is published by CPR in partnership with Medill News Service and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, policies, or positions of CPR or CDC.

One sizzling day this summer, Mo Perry made what she thought would be a routine visit to her Meals on Wheels (MOW) client, Alvin.

Perry didn’t expect to find Alvin looking disoriented and his residence overheated. Alvin’s air conditioner was broken. And his visual impairment had made it difficult for him to call for help.

“In Alvin’s case, he’s really isolated,” Perry said. “If we hadn’t stopped by, it could have been a bad situation.”

Perry’s story is an example of how MOW volunteers deliver on the organization’s More Than a Meal motto. Food deliveries double as welfare checks.

Checking on older adults during emergencies is important because they are disproportionately affected by extreme weather, said Dr. Christine Kistler, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of North Carolina.

“Older adults tend to be the population that dies during snowstorms, heat waves, and natural disasters because they have less physiological reserve,” Kistler said. She explained that in addition to differences in their physiology, older adults are generally less aware of when they’re overheating or freezing and should seek out a supportive environment. Sometimes, they don’t know where to turn.

If a client doesn’t answer the door, MOW drivers follow an established protocol. First, they try to contact the client and then the client’s emergency contacts. If all else fails, they call first responders. “We don’t quit for the day until we know they are okay,” said Natalie Huggins, a MOW volunteer coordinator based in Richland, Washington.

Volunteers also use their visits with clients to help them prepare for and respond to emergencies. MOW chapters in the Pacific Northwest delivered fans during this summer’s extreme heat.

In Lee County, Florida, it’s not winter storms but hurricanes that worry MOW administrators. Rebecca Busby, Food Programs Manager at MOW of Lee County, said her chapter provided clients with shelf-stable food ahead of Hurricane Elsa in July 2021.

Older adults can face barriers to accessing emergency supplies on their own. Many older adults have mobility disabilities that make it difficult for them to run essential errands.

Older adults might not have the financial means to pay for unanticipated expenses, according to Janaira Quigley, a former program manager at MOW in San Diego. When clients are struggling to cover their living costs on a fixed income, emergency supplies can be a low priority. “Emergency preparedness, that’s way down on the list,” Quigley said. “They’re just trying to make ends meet.”

In addition to supplies, MOW volunteers their clients stay informed.

In Florida, volunteers ensured that their clients stayed up to date as Hurricane Elsa approached. Meals came with a flyer with information on what they need to prepare for, what they can do with their pets, and what they need to have on hand, said Rebecca Busby.

Information about COVID-19, including tips on how older adults can stay safe, was distributed nationally, according to Carter Florence, Senior Director of Strategy and Impact at MOW America.

“I think for seniors, information is important. They don’t hop online, and they don’t get text messages,” said Sarah Hall, Development Director of MOW in Spokane, Washington. “A big barrier is making sure that people stay in contact and not just assume that they know what’s going on.”

MOW is also an important source of information for first responders. Chapters in Florida help responders to identify people who are at increased risk of injury and death during emergencies like hurricanes.

As for Mo Perry in Minnesota, the experience of working with clients like Alvin proves the importance of community connections to building resilience. “I think of it sort of like roots underground that intermingle and hold the trees in place when the storms come,” she said.


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Learning from 2020: Preparing for a Second COVID-19 Hurricane Season

June 1, 2021, marked the beginning of the second Atlantic Hurricane Season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected how we prepare for emergencies in a number of ways, including how we gather emergency supplies, what we include in our emergency supply kits, where we shelter, and how we seek care and preventive services.

These tasks can seem more daunting when dealing with multiple disasters or public health emergencies at the same time. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted two online surveys to assess people’s attitudes and behaviors about going to a disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses showed that people were concerned about the combined effects of these disasters, including concern about potentially being exposed to COVID-19 in a public shelter. With this information, CDC and its partners can better address specific concerns and make sure the public knows the steps that are being taken to protect them in disaster shelters, should they need to evacuate.

What we learned over the past year

Emergency managers often seek to understand communities so that when disaster strikes, they can protect those at greatest risk with effective messaging and instructions. In June 2020, CDC surveyed 500 adults from across the country. The survey asked respondents how the pandemic may affect their plans to shelter for disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. The concern about the combined effect of these disasters was apparent in the responses: 52% of respondents said worries about getting a COVID-19 infection could keep them from going to a shelter during an extreme weather incident. And 64% said they would bring a mask in their shelter “go bag.”

CDC explored these concerns further with an online survey in October 2020. The agency surveyed 3,000 adults from 98 counties in 8 states along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast that have experienced recent hurricanes. About 28% of respondents said they had changed their emergency response plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People listed fears about going to a shelter, such as other people not wearing masks, being unable safely distance from those outside their households, and concern about older family members getting COVID-19.

Respondents said they would be more likely to go to a shelter if, among other criteria, masks were required (42%), hotels were used as shelters (40%), distance was kept between different households at the shelter (38%), and medical care was available in the shelter (36%).

Adapting disaster sheltering for the pandemic

Anticipating questions about safe sheltering during the pandemic, CDC worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross in spring of 2020 to develop shelter guidelines that can protect people against COVID-19. These strategies, implemented in 2020, included the following:

  • Limit the use of congregate (group) facilities, such as gyms and convention centers, and instead use sheltering options like hotel and motel rooms.
  • Implement public health measures where the use of congregate shelter options may still be required, including
    • Keeping people with symptoms of COVID-19 in a separate area of the shelter, and referring them to medical care when needed;
    • Requiring the use of masks inside the shelter, and
    • Encouraging distancing, handwashing, and the use of hand sanitizer.

2020 was a record year for wildfire activity and for hurricanes, with 30 named storms.

The American Red Cross provided 1.2 million nights of shelter stays in 2020. About 90% of the evacuees stayed in hotel rooms.

While it’s difficult to determine if some occupants developed COVID-19 in a disaster shelter in 2020, the CDC and the Red Cross are not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks in disaster shelters. In addition, the Louisiana Department of Health reported no COVID-19 spikes after either Hurricane Delta or Hurricane Laura.

Prepare and protect your health

CDC continues to work with FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other emergency partners to provide public health guidance to help protect shelter residents from COVID-19. CDC and partners continue to recommend that a range of disaster sheltering options be made available to individuals in line with guidance from appropriate state and local health officials, and that available options incorporate the use of COVID-19 protective measures, such as mask wearing and distancing, when group shelters must be used.

Additional information on FEMA assistance available to state, local, tribal and territorial partners during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at Bringing Resources to State, Local, Tribal & Territorial Governments |

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can is one more step you can take to protect yourself and others when in a group setting. People can be better protected in shelters when most people around them have also been fully vaccinated.

However, CDC is not making a recommendation that shelters require proof of vaccination to shelter.

“Access to safe shelter from disasters is critical even during community spread of COVID-19,” said Captain Renee Funk, associate director for emergency management for CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Therefore, shelters should accept all people seeking safety regardless of vaccination status.”

The end of hurricane season, on November 30, also overlaps with the start of the flu season in October. Since storms can form and make landfall late in the hurricane season, it is possible you may have to evacuate to a shelter in October or November. Getting vaccinated for the flu protects you and may also protect other evacuees, including those who are at risk for serious illness.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and your family from hurricanes.


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Food Preservation: Home Canning Safety

Many people discovered new hobbies during the pandemic.

Some learned to bake bread. Others took up knitting and crocheting. Still others found self-care in gardening and preserving the literal fruits—and vegetables—of their labors.

Food preservation is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of produce, meats, and seafood, and add to your emergency food supply. But it can be risky—or even deadly—if not done safely.

Why preserve food?

A lot of the foods we eat go bad quickly if not eaten right away. We can make these foods last longer when we properly preserve them.

You can preserve food in different ways. They include drying, curing, smoking, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and canning.

Learning how to preserve different types of food is a practical skill you can use to supplement your emergency food supply. Families should stock up on enough food and water to last everyone at least 3 days.

Home canning

Proper canning removes oxygen, destroys enzymes, and prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts, and molds.(1) If you can foods incorrectly, you could create the perfect environment for deadly bacteria to grow and cause botulism.

Botulism is a rare but potentially deadly illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.(2)

Botulism is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know has symptoms of foodborne botulism, see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately:(2)

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Double vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty moving the eyes

Many cases of foodborne botulism have happened after people ate home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods that were contaminated with the toxin. Foods can become contaminated if they were not canned using the correct techniques or tools.

USDA guidance suggests that beginners start with high-acid foods that can be safely canned in a boiling water bath, before trying pressure canning. Only use recipes from reputable sources. Contact your local cooperative extension service office with questions.

How to can safely

You can take steps to make sure your food is properly preserved. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning has step-by-step directions to prevent botulism and includes specific guidance for different kinds of foods. Regardless of canning techniques and tools, always consider the acidity of the food you are trying to preserve.

Canning techniques

Low-acid foods—including most vegetables, some fruits, milk, and all meats, fish, and seafood—are the most common sources of botulism linked to home-canning.

Low-acid foods are foods that are not acidic enough to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. Pressure canning is the only recommended method for canning these foods.(2)

Pressure canning tools

Make sure to use the right equipment for the kind of foods you are canning, including the right-sized pressure canner.

The canner should be big enough to hold at least four one-quart jars sitting upright on the rack. It should also meet USDA recommendations for pressure canning when canning low-acid foods. Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner is accurate.

After using a pressure canner, check that your cans are properly sealed in one of these three ways:

  1. Press the middle of the lid with your finger or thumb to see that the lid does not spring up.
  2. Tap the lid with the bottom of a spoon to make sure it does not make a dull noise (it should make ringing sound).
  3. Hold the jar at eye level to see that the lid is curved down slightly in the center.(1)

If you have any doubt whether safe canning guidelines were followed, do not eat the food. When in doubt, throw it out!

Storage & maintenance of canned goods

Store your home canned goods properly to maximize their shelf life.

  • Label and date your jars.
  • Keep jars with other emergency food in a clean, cool, dark, dry place between 50 and 70°F. (1) If you store jars at temperatures outside this range, the food inside can spoil.
    • Stack jars no more than two high so you don’t damage the seals.
    • If storing jars where they can freeze, wrap them in newspapers and blankets.(1)
  • Remove, throw away or use, and replace any canned food and stored water before it expires.
    • Home-canned food usually needs to be thrown out after a year.
    • Remember that once a can is opened, the contents cannot be saved until later without proper refrigeration.
    • When storing safe water, it is best to use food-grade storage containers and to clean and sanitize the container before using it. Replace stored water every six months.

For more information on how to can safely, visit the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.




Be Prepared for A Day at the Beach

Millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and are resuming normal activities like going to the beach without a mask.(1)

Be prepared for a day at the beach. Take steps to protect your skin and eyes from the sun, avoid heat-related illness, and stay healthy and safe during your visit.

Know Before You Go

A beachy keen day can turn into anything if you aren’t prepared. Here are some things you should know before you go to the beach.

How to Swim in the Ocean

Swimming in the ocean isn’t like swimming in a pool. Waves, currents, and winds can drain your energy and strength. Rough surf and rip currents are especially dangerous if you aren’t already a strong swimmer and don’t know how to escape them.

Also, consider wearing a life jacket. Properly fitted US Coast Guard-approved life jackets add an extra layer of protection, particularly if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Check the local beach forecast before you leave for the beach and talk to the lifeguard when you get there. If you choose to swim at a beach without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Go with a friend and take a cell phone so that you’re prepared to call 911 for help.(2)

What the Warning Flags Mean

Read the beach safety signs before stepping onto the beach. Once on the beach, look for beach warning flags. They are often posted on or near a lifeguard’s stand. A green flag tells you water conditions are good with a minimal level of risk. The other colors can mean different things depending on the beach.

Water Quality

Germs found in the water and sand (swim area) often come from human or animal feces (poop). Before you plan your visit, check online to find out if the swim area is currently monitored, is under advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons. Water contaminated with germs can make you sick if you swallow it. It can also cause an infection if you get into the water with an open cut or wound.(3)

Stay Out of Water with a Bloom

Algae and cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) are simple, plant-like organisms that live in the water. Sometimes they rapidly grow out of control, or “These blooms can sometimes produce toxins (poisons) that can make people and animals sick. Blooms can look like foam, scum, paint, or mats on the surface of the water and can be different colors. The types of blooms can differ by location. For example, a common type in the Gulf of Mexico is called Karenja brevis red tide.

Before going to the beach learn tips to help you spot harmful algae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Check for local and state swimming advisories and water quality notices online or near the water before visiting the beach or any other body of water. Follow advisories to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Practice Sun Safety

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Take steps to protect your skin from sun damage and sunburn which can increase your risk for skin cancer.


You can reduce your risk of sun damage and skin cancer by staying in the shade under an umbrella, tree, or another shelter. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.


When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts, which can provide protection from UV rays. If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.


For the most protection, wear a hat that has a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen, or staying in the shade.


Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.


Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher before you go outside.

Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

#PrepYourHealth for Tsunamis

The beach is a dangerous place to be during a tsunami. Tsunamis do not occur very often. And most that do occur are small and nondestructive. But it’s still a good idea to prepare and know the warnings signs.(8)

A tsunami can strike any U.S. coast, but the hazard is greatest for communities near geologic subduction zones, where large earthquakes can occur. Find out if your beach destination is in a tsunami hazard zone or evacuation zone, and what routes to take in the event of an evacuation.(9)

There are two types of tsunami warnings:

  • An official tsunami warning is broadcast through local radio and television, outdoor sirens, Wireless Emergency Alerts, weather radio, and NOAA websites.
  • Natural tsunami warnings include strong or long earthquakes, a roar (like a train or an airplane) from the ocean, and unusual ocean behavior, such as water receding (or moving away) from the coast. A natural warning may be the first, best, and only warning that a tsunami is on its way.(10)

You may not get both warnings. It’s important to know the differences and respond right away to whichever you get first. Seconds can make all the difference so act immediately.

Move to a safe place away from the water. Get to high ground and as far inland as you can. Follow instructions from local officials. Never go down to or stay on the beach to watch a tsunami.

Stay informed and stay put until local authorities tell you it’s safe.

Learn more ways to prepare for tsunamis.





Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.