Emergency Medical Services: More Than a Ride to the Hospital

ambulance

This post was written in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of EMS in observance of National Emergency Medical Services Week, May 15-22.

For many of us, the image we have of first responders comes mostly from television and movies.

We picture ambulances with sirens wailing and lights flashing en route to the scene of an emergency. We imagine emergency medical service (EMS) clinicians tending to seriously ill and injured patients, administering emergency medical care, and whisking them away to a hospital.

EMS clinicians are first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and others whose titles may not always suggest their EMS duties. For example, firefighters and nurses may provide pre-hospital emergency medical care as part of their routine job duties. They are all vital to emergency response.

There are several coordinated efforts underway by federal agencies to help create resilient, stable, and capable EMS systems. They include initiatives to share EMS data, develop the workforce, and enhance public health readiness.

Public Health & EMS Collaborationmap of public health responders

EMS systems provide an essential service in response to emergencies. The last few years have reminded us how important EMS clinicians are to our healthcare, public health, emergency management, and public safety systems, especially in times of crisis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, EMS clinicians helped keep people out of the hospital by evaluating them in their homes and nursing facilities. They administered vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. They staffed emergency operations centers, hospitals, and other medical facilities around the country. All the while putting themselves at risk for injuries and illnesses, including mental harm caused by the inherent stressors of the job.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Together they are developing risk mitigation strategies and interventions to protect and improve the health and resilience of our EMS workforce.

It’s important that local, regional, and state EMS leaders work closely with public health, 911 emergency communications systems, and emergency management to prepare for future public health emergencies.

NHTSA’s Office of EMS (OEMS) is part of a national focus on integrating EMS into planning and preparedness initiatives. It is co-funding a project to research and publish best practices for engagement and collaboration between EMS, 911, public health, and emergency management. It will serve as a valuable tool that can help reduce morbidity and mortality during public health emergencies and promote population health and illness/injury prevention.

During the COVID-19 response, the FEMA/HHS Healthcare Resilience Working Group’s Prehospital EMS/911 team was led by the OEMS. It brought together 27 SMEs from the EMS and 911 industries, generating over 36 cleared documents to help EMS and 911 function throughout the pandemic by collaborating with federal, state, and local partners. Additionally, the use of information exchange between the community and OEMS allowed for shared learning and best practices on how to best manage triage and transport throughout the pandemic.

The Value of Data

NHTSA’s OEMS supports efforts to improve EMS and 911 systems, using evidence based on data, to improve the response to and treatment of patients suffering from traffic crashes, severe injuries, acute illness, or other medical emergencies.

Every encounter between an EMS clinician and a patient is documented following the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) data standard. Portions of the collected patient care data are submitted to the National EMS Database.

EMS data has proven valuable to researchers, policymakers, and public health officials on topics ranging from COVID-19, drug overdose, stroke care, and traffic crashes. It is used at the local, state, and national levels to improve care and develop evidence-based guidelines.

NEMSIS data were used to develop Prehospital Evidence Based Guidelines on naloxone administration and pain management. It’s also used by the National EMS Quality Alliance to develop performance measures for the National Guideline for the Field Triage of Injured Patients.

NEMSIS is providing the CDC with data on EMS activations that it use to conduct syndromic surveillance, monitor health-related trends, and inform and assess public health interventions. In coordination with state and local partners, federal agencies are exploring ways to link NEMSIS data with other data to monitor and improve outcomes, while protecting patient confidentiality.

Workforce Resilience

Many EMS systems across the country face challenges to providing essential services. They include funding, recruitment, and retention.

With an understanding of the unique challenges faced by rural and tribal communities, the OEMS is working with them to improve communications and access to available resources. The OEMS collaborates with national partners to enhance interstate recognition and reciprocity of EMS personnel.

The theme of this year’s National EMS Week is “Rising to the Challenge.” Meeting current and future challenges requires the people of the EMS system to work together to meet the emergency medical needs of people in every kind of emergency.

Resources

Self-Serve Food Pantries Help Feed Local Communities

Five teenagers stand beside a freestanding wooden container filled with food. A label on the box says "TLC little free pantry"
High school students (from left) Eva Gottesfeld, Rebecca Levy, Yair Gritzman, Jonathan Hus, and Noah Rubin stand in front of a “TLC Little Free Pantry” with a quick response (QR) code and instructions posted on the front. (Photo credit: Yair Gritzman)

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.

Summer Faerman was on a walk in early 2020 when she saw a small wooden box at the entrance of a neighborhood. She investigated.

The box was a free library, where people could take a book for themselves and leave them for others. The idea inspired Faerman to create something similar—a self-serve food pantry.

Faerman started with one pantry in front of a Salvation Army. It was a strategic choice. The Salvation Army is known in the community as a place to donate goods. It’s also a block away from a local elementary school and a public housing development.callout

Over the past year, one pantry has turned into 52 TLC Little Free Pantries (LFP) located around South Florida. The newest opened last Veteran’s Day in Boca Raton at a mental health center that treats veterans.

LFPs are open 24 hours. There are no questions asked, no judgments passed, and no forms to fill out, explained Faerman.

The pantries are based on the honor system. The words “If you have, give. If you need, take” are posted in multiple languages, including Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish, on the boxes.

People who take from the self-serve food pantries also give, Faerman said. She’s seen people, including members of the local synagogue and passersby, put food in the boxes.

With the pantries being always open, Faerman ran into a problem. When there was just one box, she was able to keep up with demand.

As new pantries opened, it became more difficult for Faerman to keep them stocked. That’s even with the help of volunteers.

In January 2021, Faerman heard from a group of high school students in an engineering club at Donna Klein Jewish Academy with an offer to help. She explained to them her problem of knowing when the pantries were running low. The students suggested creating quick response (QR) codes for the pantries.

QR codes, explains Yair Gritzman, a senior in high school and member of their engineering club, were a simple and inexpensive solution to keeping tabs on the pantries’ inventory.

Gritzman and his schoolmates enlisted the help of their engineering teacher and the Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering at Florida Atlantic University. Together they launched “Report That Pantry”.

Report That Pantry is a website. QR codes placed on each pantry link to the site, where users of the code can report the level of food inside the pantries to LFP volunteers.

The QR codes, which link to the website, are now being used by self-serve food pantry projects in other states, including Oregon, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Ohio, to restock their pantries faster.

Faerman said the QR codes make it so that “if there’s one [a pantry] that’s bare, it’s not bare for long.”

People appreciate that they can go at any time and take as much food as they need, said Faerman. Children share how excited, not embarrassed, they are to go to the pantry and pick out food. Thank-you notes are left inside the pantries as well.

Faerman hopes to implement more self-serve pantries soon. For now, she’s focused on keeping the ones they have stocked with food with the help of the website.

Faerman hopes people find inspiration in the TLC LFPs—as she did in the free library—and replicate it in their communities. Building a self-serve pantry is easy and opening an account on “Report That Pantry” is free. People are only limited by their willingness to get involved.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported in September 2021 that of the 13.8 million food-insecure households in the U.S., 36.5% of them reported using a food pantry in 2020. USDA defines households as food insecure if they have “difficulty providing enough food for all members at some time in the past year because there wasn’t enough money for food.”(2)

Food assistance is available for low-income individuals and communities. Call USDA’s National Hunger Hotline for information on meal sites, food banks, and other services near you. The number is 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) for Spanish. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-blog/what-difference-between-food-bank-and-food-pantry
  2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

Prep Your Health with Advance Care Planning

writing

April is National Donate Life Month. April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Emergencies, including personal injury and illness, are often unpredictable. That unpredictability is both a reason to prepare and something to prepare for.

Plan Ahead for Personal Health Emergencies

Many people face decisions about treatments that a medical emergency might leave them incapable of making.(1)

Advance care planning is an important preparedness step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want if you cannot speak forcallout yourself.(2)

While you might prefer to think that you will never need such a plan, advance care planning is a way to care for others if you get ill or are injured.

Advance care planning is not just for older adults. At any age, a medical emergency could leave you too ill or injured to make your own health care decisions.

Advance care planning can save loved ones from confusion, family infighting, and second-guessing if they made the right decisions on your behalf.(3)

Advance care planning involves several steps:

  1. Learn about the types of healthcare decisions that you might need to make.
  2. Consider those decisions ahead of time.
  3. Make your decisions known to others.

Talk to family and a doctor as part of your advance care planning. They can help you understand the choices you may need to make and think through your decisions before you put them in writing.(4)

Organ Donation

Organ donation is one of many important decisions you can make as part of your advance care planning for medical emergencies. Others include deciding when you want emergency medical professionals to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart your heart.

Organ donation is the process of taking healthy organs and tissues from one person for transplantation into another. Organs you can donate include:

  • Internal organs: Kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs
  • Skin
  • Bone and bone marrow
  • Cornea(5)

Learn more about how donation works and the difference you can make when you become an organ donor.

Become a Donor

Anyone can sign up to be an organ donor regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, or health status. It only takes a few minutes. Sign up online through your state registry or in person at your local department of motor vehicles. Your donation can save or improve more than 80 lives.(6)

You can update your information on your state’s online donor registry at any time. Most states let you choose which organs and tissues you want to donate.(7)

Make Your Decisions Known

Preparedness isn’t a prediction of the future. There’s no guarantee that you’ll need advance care planning. You may never need others to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

Once you’ve come to decisions on things like organ donation, you should talk to your family about your decisions and write them down. There are several ways to do that.

Advanced directives, including living wills, are legal documents that go into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.(8) You can use them to organize and communicate your decisions about things like end-of-life care and organ donation.

Another way to make your decisions known is to carry a wallet card that explains that you have an advance directive and where it is kept.

Give copies of advance care planning documents to your healthcare proxy, your healthcare providers, your hospital, and anyone you think should have the information.

Create digital duplicates of hardcopy documents. Save them in a password-protected format to a flash or external hard drive or a secure cloud service.

Like most important paperwork, advance directive documents, wallet cards, and even online profiles for decisions like organ donation require occasional maintenance. Periodic proofreading for errors and outdated information will save yourself and others time, frustration, and added worry in an emergency.

References

  1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-health-care-directives
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/advancecareplanning/index.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/advancecareplanning/
  4. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-health-care-directives
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/organdonation.html
  6. https://www.organdonor.gov/learn/organ-donation-statistics
  7. https://www.organdonor.gov/sign-up
  8. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-health-care-directives#:~:text=These%20preferences%20are%20often%20put,of%20medical%20care%20you%20want

Resources

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

Creating a Nutritious Emergency Food Supply

Nutrition Facts label

March is National Nutrition Month.

There are several things to think about when picking food to include in your emergency food supplies. They include:

  • Shelf life. Shop for nonperishable items
  • Foods that don’t require cooking, water, or special preparation are best.
  • Does your family have food allergies or other special dietary needs?
  • How much do you need to keep your family fed? Where will you store it?

Often less attention is paid to the nutritional facts of the foods in our emergency kits. But taking care of your body is an important part of self-care during an emergency. One way to do that is to try to eat healthier foods.

Here are a few tips to help you build a nutritious emergency food supply.

Improve Your Food Label Literacy

Knowing how to read food labels is a practical skill that you can use to make decisions about what goes in your emergency food supply.An annotated example of a Nutrition Facts label.

Nutrition Facts labels include information on serving size, calories, and nutrients that can help you make healthier food choices.(1)

Because you can’t know how an emergency will affect your every day, you may want to stock your food supply with more calories than you normally eat. A day spent cleaning up after a disaster expends more calories than one spent sheltering in place.

When using food labels to help make healthier choices consider the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. The number of servings you eat determines the number of calories you’re eating. Eating too many calories per day is linked to overweight and obesity.

Shop Smart

When shopping for food, imagine having to rely on your emergency food supply and emergency water supply. How will you meet your family’s nutritional needs on a limited supply of water and without access to grocery stores and restaurants? Here are some things to think about when buying for your emergency food supply.

Include Fruits and Vegetables

Canned and shelf-stable fruits and vegetables can be a nutritious addition to your emergency food supply. Look for low and no sodium and no-sugar-added options. Also, consider dried fruit and nuts.

Look for Lower Sodium Foods

Sodium (salt) helps to preserve some foods, especially shelf-stable canned items. Salty food can increase your thirst, which could cause you to drink more water than you planned when creating an emergency water supply.

You should store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days for drinking and sanitation. Try to store a 2-week supply of water, if possible.

Most of the sodium you eat is added to packaged foods before you purchase them. This makes reading food labels and choosing lower sodium foods even more important.(2)

Different brands of the same foods may have different sodium levels. For example, sodium in chicken noodle soup can vary by as much as 840 mg per serving for different brands. Look for brands that advertise low or reduced sodium. Compare the nutrition facts panels of different brands to choose the lowest sodium option.(2)

Include Protein

Protein is a critical part of our diet. Everyone needs a minimum amount of protein every day, even during an emergency.

Protein also gives you a feeling of fullness. Feeling full can help keep you from eating other foods in your emergency supply and make your emergency food supply last longer.(3)

Protein-rich foods include:

  • canned or pouched fish,
  • canned poultry,
  • beans and legumes,
  • nuts
  • low-fat or non-fat dairy products packaged in shelf-stable packaging. You can usually find these products in the cereal aisle at the grocery store.

Things like canned or packaged tuna, salmon, or chicken; protein bars, nut butters (presuming no one has an allergy), and some non-dairy milk alternatives are good choices for your emergency food supply.

If buying dairy or non-dairy beverages, look for products that are UHT, or Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurization (also referred to as Ultra Pasteurization or UP). These are shelf-stable and do not require refrigeration for safe storage.

If buying canned proteins, look for labels that say canned in water, low sodium, or no salt added.

Avoid Added Sugars

Added sugars include sucrose, dextrose, table sugar, syrups, honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.(4)

The leading sources of added sugars in the US diet are sugar-sweetened beverages, such as regular soda (not sugar-free), fruit drinks, and sports drinks, and foods like cookies and cakes.(4)

One way to avoid added sugars in your emergency food supply is to choose foods with little to no added sugar. Examples include fruit canned in its juice or water.

Help Others Create a More Nutritious Food Supply

People get most of their food for an emergency food supply from food retail venues, such as grocery and corner stores, and food pantries. Having healthier food available and making it affordable in places like these empowers people to make healthier food choices every day and when preparing for emergencies.(5)

When nutritious foods are not available, people may settle for foods that are higher in calories and lower in nutritional value.(5)

The whole community can work together to improve access to healthier food in several ways. They include:

  • connecting people to healthier foods by addressing transportation gaps in communities.
  • increasing nutritious food offerings in food service venues
  • bringing partners together to link local food hubs to organizations that sell or serve food in low-income communities.

Learn more ways government, communities, businesses, nonprofit groups, and others can work to improve access to healthier food.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/extra-protein-is-a-decent-dietary-choice-but-dont-overdo-it-201305016145
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/healthy-food-environments/index.html

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

Prep Your Health for Floods

road closed sign

March 14–20 is Flood Safety Awareness Week

Floods are the most widespread of all weather-related natural disasters. They happen in every U.S. state and territory.(1) Floodwater can be dangerous. It can contain different hazards that can harm your health and the health of others.

Here are some ways you can prepare for and respond to flooding.flood warnings

Know Your Risk

Flooding can happen year-round anywhere it rains.(1) If you live in a flood-prone area, you should prepare.

Use FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to find your official flood map. You can also contact your local emergency management agency.

Use the information you gather to make an informed decision about how best to protect your finances and property.(2) Homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover flooding. A flood insurance policy typically takes up to 30 days to go into effect.

Prepare Yourself or Your Household

Planning for an emergency can give you and your family peace of mind. If the entire process seems too big, you can take small steps throughout the year.

  • Collect emergency supplies, including
    • personal items such as water, medications, and supplies for pets
    • personal protective equipment, including
      • an N-95 respirator
      • long pants or waders
      • rubber boots
      • rubber gloves
      • goggles (i.e., safety glasses)
    • insect repellent
    • cleaning supplies (Unscented household bleach can be used to disinfect surfaces, canned goods, and even water if bottled water is not available.)
  • Collect, check, and protect important paperwork, including homeowners or renters and flood insurance policy documents.
  • Stay informed of weather updates. Follow trusted sources of information on social media like your local National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office.

Along with preparing yourself for a flood, you should also take steps to get your home ready for a flood. This includes learning practical skills like how to turn off the utilities in case you must evacuate.

Protect Your Health

Floodwater can be dangerous. It can contain things that may harm health. We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Protect yourself and others from possible contaminants, chemical hazards, and objects.

  • Stay out of floodwater. Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause wound infections, skin rash, gastrointestinal illness, tetanus, and other health problems. If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.(3)
  • Don’t drive into flooded areas—turn around, don’t drown! Have an evacuation plan that gives you options in case a path is flooded.(3) A few inches of water can sweep a car away.
  • Prevent injuries. If you happen to have an open wound during a flood, make sure to avoid floodwater by keeping wounds clean and covered. (3)

Going home after a flood can present challenges, too. Here are some practical steps to take when you first reenter your home.

  • Throw out any food, including emergency supplies, that may have come into contact with floodwater. Discard canned foods that are bulging open, or damaged. Food in undamaged cans can be saved if properly cleaned.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Immediately following a hurricane, flooding occurs. Mosquito eggs laid in the soil by floodwater mosquitoes during previous floods hatch. This results in very large populations of floodwater mosquitoes. Most of these mosquitoes are considered nuisance mosquitoes. In general, nuisance mosquitoes do not spread viruses that make people sick.(4)
  • Dry out your home to prevent mold. When returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold growth may be present. Mold can be a health risk for your family. If possible, air out your house by opening doors and windows. Use fans to dry wet areas. Position fans to blow air out doors or windows. Use proper protective gear such as safety glasses, gloves, and N95 respirator when removing mold.(5)

Visit the CDC website for more information on what to do when reentering a flooded home.

References

  1. https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/floods/
  2. https://www.fema.gov/flood-maps
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/floodsafety.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/mosquito-control/community/mosquitoes-and-hurricanes.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/mold

Resources

 

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

3 Ways to Improve Your Food Label Literacy

A person pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store.

Canned goods are an emergency preparedness staple. And for good reason. They are reasonably affordable, require little to no preparation, and have a long shelf life. These characteristics make them a good choice for your emergency food supply.

As often as people buy and cook with canned goods, they can find food labels confusing.(1, 2) Because labels are required for most packaged foods, it’s good to know how to read and understand them.(3)

Knowing how to read food labels is a practical skill that can help you avoid food allergens, reduce sodium and sugar in your diet, reduce food waste, and better manage your emergency food supply.

Here are three ways you can improve your food label literacy.

Learn to Identify Allergens

Food allergies affect millions of Americans and their families. They occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to certain proteins in food.

Food allergic reactions vary in severity. Mild symptoms can include hives and lip swelling. One severe, life-threatening reaction, often called anaphylaxis, may involve fatal respiratory problems and shock.(4)

The best way to prevent a food allergy reaction is to avoid the foods that cause reactions.

Laws and regulations, such as the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), and the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act (FASTER) make it easier for people to identify potential food allergies in food products.

FALCPA requires labeling for the eight most common food allergens. They are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.

FASTER identifies sesame as a major food allergen. Food labels must start to identify sesame as an allergen beginning January 1, 2023.

FALCPA says the name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear in one of three ways:

  • Using the allergens common name in the ingredient list (e.g., milk).
  • In the ingredient list in parentheses after the name of a less common form of the allergen (e.g., “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”).
  • Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement. (e.g., “Contains wheat, milk, and soy.”).(5)

Consumers may also see advisory statements such as “may contain [allergen] or “produced in a facility that also uses [allergen].” Statements like these are used to address “cross-contact,” which can occur in different ways:

  • When multiple foods are produced in the same facility using shared equipment.
  • When multiple foods are produced on the same production line.
  • As the result of dust or aerosols containing an allergen.(4)

Make a habit of carefully reading labels even for foods you purchase often because ingredients and manufacturing processes can change. Reading labels each time you shop to avoid food allergens will ensure your emergency food supply is ready when you need it.

Be Informed About Expiration Dates

Americans throw away almost 40 million tons of food every year. Confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer food waste, according to FDA.(6)

Many people incorrectly think phrases like “Best By” and “Best if Used By” refer to food safety. Manufacturers use phrases like these to refer to when the food is at peak freshness and flavor.

Shelf-stable foods like canned goods can last for years past their “best by” date if the can is in good condition. That means no rust, dents, or signs of swelling.(7)

Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems launched the “Labels Unwrapped” website to help you better understand food labels. The “Labels 101” resource includes examples of common phrases on food packaging and explanations of the terms used to communicate quality.

After an emergency, it’s important that you take steps to prevent illness from unsafe food. Visit CDC’s website for information on what to do with food after an emergency or disaster.

Get the FoodKeeper App

The FoodKeeper app was developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and others to help you understand how to store food and beverages.

The app allows you to search different foods by category for information about when you should consume them and how to safely store them. For example, the app recommends that you keep low-acid, unopened canned goods like stew, soups, and beans in the pantry.

The app also suggests you eat them within 2 to 5 years of purchase. You should refrigerate and eat low-acid canned goods within 3 to 4 days after opening.

Use your new understanding of food labels and tools like the FoodKeeper app to help you manage your pantry and maintain your emergency food supply. At the same time, you can avoid allergens, reduce waste, and save money on your food bill.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/03/02/soup-tuna-top-selling-canned-foods-in-america/111338376/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30770169/
  3. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition
  4. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies
  5. https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/how-read-food-label
  6. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/how-cut-food-waste-and-maintain-food-safety
  7. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/06/27/you-toss-food-wait-check-it-out

 

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

Prep Your Health for Earthquakes

A seismograph

February is Earthquake Awareness Month

If people were asked where in the United States do most earthquakes happen, they are likely to answer California. They’d be correct.(1) But earthquakes are a hazard in other parts of the country, too.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that nearly half of all Americans live in areas with some potential for damaging earthquakes. That includes people living in the central states where there is what USGS calls “strong shaking potential.”(2)

If you live under the threat of earthquakes, there are ways you can prepare. They start with collecting emergency supplies, including personal needs, and planning ahead. Here are three more ways you can prepare.

Know Your Risk

There’s no way to know when or where an earthquake will happen. The best scientists can do is calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will happen in a specific area within a certain number of years.(3)

It is, however, possible to better know the earthquake hazard where you live and the earthquake risk to your community.

An earthquake hazard is anything associated with an earthquake that may affect the normal activities of people. This includes landslide, liquefaction, tsunamis, and seiches.(4)

Use the USGS National Seismic Hazard Map to learn the general earthquake hazard in your area. The map shows how many times earthquakes could cause damaging ground shaking in 10,000 years. That doesn’t mean the earthquakes won’t happen before. They could happen at any time.(5)

Your earthquake risk is the probable building damage and the number of people that are expected to be hurt or killed if an earthquake occurs on a particular fault. Earthquake risk and earthquake hazard are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably. High earthquake hazard does not mean high risk.(6)

The best way for you to stay informed about both the hazard and risk to your community is to contact your local emergency management or geological survey office. Understanding your risk can help you take steps to protect yourself and your property.

Earthquakes can trigger tsunamis. A tsunami can strike any U.S. coast, but the hazard is greatest in places near subduction zones. For example, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and the U.S. Caribbean islands. If you live along the coast in one of these places, you are at risk from tsunamis.

Practice Your Response

Earthquakes can have immediate and long-term impacts on health and safety. They can cause injuries, anxiety and stress, and death.(7)

Participating in emergency response activities like the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill can teach you practical skills that you can use during an earthquake. Take these steps:

  1. STOP and stay put. Stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside. If inside and if possible, move away from glass, hanging objects, bookcases, cabinets, and large furniture that could fall. If you are outside, move away from buildings, utility wires, and fuel and gas lines.
  2. DROP down onto your hands and knees. This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  3. COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) underneath a table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands. If you are in bed, hold on and stay there. Protect your head with a pillow.
  4. HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

Studies of injuries and deaths caused by earthquakes over several decades show that you are much more likely to be injured by falling or flying objects than to die in a collapsed building.(8)

Imagine your home or workplace being picked up and shaken sideways. What would be thrown around and cause injury or damage?

Reduce your risk of injury by taking no-cost steps to secure the space around you:

  • Move or secure furniture, such as bookcases, away from beds, sofas, or other places where people sit, sleep, or spend a lot of time.
  • Move heavy objects to lower shelves.
  • Move heavy or unstable objects away from doors and escape routes.(9)

Learn more about how to protect yourself during an earthquake.

Protect Your Property

Consider buying earthquake insurance if you have the means and live someplace where there’s a high earthquake hazard. Standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover damage resulting from land movement or landslides.

Earthquake insurance isn’t a realistic option for everyone. Increases in insurance premiums have made it difficult to find coverage in many areas. California experiences 90% of the country’s earthquakes, but only 10% of residents had earthquake insurance in 2014.(10)

There are many things to consider when deciding whether to buy earthquake insurance. They include how often earthquakes happen in your area, how long it’s been since the last earthquake, the value of your home and its contents, and the cost of the insurance and restrictions on coverage (i.e., the deductible).(11)

Learn more about earthquake insurance.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/which-state-has-most-earthquakes-cause-damage-which-state-has-most-earthquakes-not-human
  2. https://www.usgs.gov/news/featured-story/nearly-half-americans-exposed-potentially-damaging-earthquakes
  3. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/can-you-predict-earthquakes
  4. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/glossary/?term=earthquake%20hazard
  5. https://www.usgs.gov/programs/earthquake-hazards/science/introduction-national-seismic-hazard-maps
  6. https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/glossary/?term=earthquake%20risk
  7. https://emergency.cdc.gov/cerc/ppt/CERC_Psychology_of_a_Crisis.pdf
  8. https://www.earthquakecountry.org/dropcoverholdon/
  9. https://www.earthquakecountry.org/step1/
  10. https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/risk-management/earthquake/insurance
  11. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-do-i-decide-whether-or-not-get-earthquake-insurance

 

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

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

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.

February

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.

March

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)

April

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

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.

June

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.

July

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

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.

September

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)

October

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.

November

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.

December

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.

References

  1. https://healthcareready.org/community-resilience/
  2. https://www.healthit.gov/how-to-get-your-health-record/check-it/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/keeping-pets-and-people-healthy/emergencies.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm

Resources

In Case You Missed It: Favorite Posts of 2021

Best of 2021

Year’s end is a good time to reflect on the events of the past 12 months.

The Center for Preparedness and Response (CPR) published about 30 posts to its Public Health Matters blog in 2021. Most of them include suggestions for how you can prepare for emergencies of all shapes and sizes.

In case you missed it: Here are some of our favorite posts from 2021.

Prep Your Mental Health for an Emergency

A man sits in the woods with his eyes closed.Traumatic events and most emergencies are beyond your control. You can, however, prepare your mental health for the stress of an emergency. Practice self-care, develop coping skills, and make social connections before an emergency happens. Taking care of yourself can also better equip you to take care of others.

This post suggests ways you can prepare your mental health for an emergency. They include practicing gratitude, staying connected with friends and family, and learning relaxation techniques like meditation.

Home Alone: Prepare Kids for Emergencies

Dialing 911 on a cellphoneMany children don’t have adult supervision 100% of the time. Parents and caregivers have jobs, errands, and other responsibilities that require them to leave their kids home alone sometimes.

Emergencies and no-notice disasters can happen when kids are home alone. This post includes tips from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Emergency Medical Services for how to prepare children to call 911 in an emergency.

Food Preservation: Home Canning Safety

Glass jars in a hot water bath.

Many of us have discovered new hobbies during the pandemic. Some 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. It’s a practical skill that you can learn and use to supplement your emergency food supply. But it can be risky—or even deadly—if not done correctly. This post includes information on proper canning techniques.

Be Prepared for a Day at the Beach

A green flag.A “day at the beach” can turn into anything but if you aren’t prepared. Rip currents, ultraviolet (UV) rays, and harmful algal blooms are a few of the dangers to be aware of before setting foot on the sand or in the surf.

Swimming in the ocean isn’t like swimming in a pool. This summertime post includes a list of different things you should know before you go to the beach. They include knowing how to escape a rip current and the meanings of different beach warning flags.

Must-Haves for Your First-Aid Kit

First-aid supplies.First-aid kits make it possible for ordinary people to help until professional help arrives. That’s important because family, friends, coworkers, etc.—not first responders—are often first on the scene in a medical emergency.

Owning a well-stocked first-aid kit and the practical skill to use its contents can save a life. This post lists suggested supplies to keep in your first-aid kit. It also recommends practical skills you can learn and use to protect yourself and others during an emergency.

Volunteers Prepare for Another Season of Disaster Response, Relief Work

Red Cross volunteer Gaenor Speed feeds a dog in a carrier.This post was published by CPR in partnership with the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The author introduces us to Gaenor Speed, a volunteer with the Red Cross South Florida Region.

Speed had responded to more than 20 disasters across the country going into the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Volunteering with a volunteer organization active in disaster is one way you can get involved in your community.

Emergency Preparedness Tips for Parents of Children with Special Healthcare Needs

A young girl in sunglasses enjoying the beach.Emergency preparedness can be stressful for all families, especially those with children with special healthcare needs. Children with special healthcare needs may have:

  • A hard time moving from one place to another.
  • Urgent or constant medical needs.
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Trouble with transitioning to different situations.

This post was written in observance of National Autism Awareness Month in April. It emphasizes the importance of emergency action planning. Knowing what to do during an emergency can help maintain calm and keep your family safe.

 

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) 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.

Get Involved with Your Neighbors During Hi Neighbor Month

A person pushing a doorbell button.

December is Hi Neighbor Month.

Social connections are important to your personal health preparedness. The relationships we build with others are ties that bind during an emergency. One of the more important social connections you can make is with your neighbors.

The Importance of Neighbors

Neighbors can be an important source of assistance in the days after an emergency. Because they live close—maybe even next door—neighbors might be your first and best option for help after a tornado or during something like a power outage.

Research shows that people who think they’re prepared for disasters often aren’t as prepared as they think. Forty-six percent of people surveyed by FEMA expect to rely heavily on their neighbors for help within the first 72 hours after an emergency.(1)

Yes, ask your neighbors for help if you need it, but—if possible—try to be the helper. The more prepared neighbors are to meet the basic and personal needs of their families on their own, the more resilient the community.

Be a Good Neighbor

There’s no science to being a good neighbor. But there are things you can do to create a feeling of community where you live. Here are some neighborly suggestions on how you can build trust with your neighbors.

  • Introduce yourself. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2018 found that most Americans (57%) knew only some of their neighbors.(2) Starting an initial introduction with neighbors you don’t know can help them and you feel more comfortable about asking for help.
  • Show kindness. Look for small ways you can be kind to your neighbors. For example, offer to watch their house, collect mail, put out trash cans, or water their yard while they are on vacation.(3)
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Use a leash in public and clean up after them properly. Cleaning up after your dog helps to keep the environment clean and reduces the risk of diseases spreading to people and other animals.(4)
  • Lead by example. Pick a regular time to take a walk around the neighborhood. Use your walk to meet new neighbors and model community-minded behaviors, such as picking up trash or litter.(3)

Other simple ways to build goodwill with neighbors include maintaining the exterior of the house and lawn, keeping the noise down, and respecting property lines and personal space.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

People who live in communities in which members are regularly involved in each other’s lives are more empowered to help one another after an emergency.(5) Here are some ways you can get involved in your community.

  • Offer to help your neighbors, especially older adults and people who live alone or with a disability or chronic disease or rely on electricity-dependent equipment, prepare for emergencies. You can offer to help them collect supplies, sign up for evacuation assistance, and collect and protect important paperwork.
  • Join neighborhood groups on social networking sites.
  • Volunteer with an organization active in disaster, such as your local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Unit or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
  • Emergency plan with neighbors. Just 13% of respondents to FEMA’s 2021 National Household Survey said they plan with neighbors.(6) But involving trusted neighbors in your emergency action planning can help improve your resilience. At a minimum and if possible, exchange contact information so you can reach each other in an emergency.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.ready.gov/neighbors
  2. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/05/22/how-urban-suburban-and-rural-residents-interact-with-their-neighbors/
  3. https://www.apachejunctionaz.gov/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/dogs.html
  5. https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/abc/Pages/community-resilience.aspx
  6. https://fema-community-files.s3.amazonaws.com/2021-National-Household-Survey.pdf

 

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/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.