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 (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.

Home Alone: Prepare Kids for Emergencies

Many 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 some of the time.

Emergencies and no-notice disasters can happen during these gaps in supervision. Here are some practical skills you can teach, and conversations you can have, to prepare them to be home alone.

Talk About Emergencies

Emergencies can be scary for anybody, especially children. Parents and guardians must talk to kids about what they can anticipate during and after an emergency. Talking to kids about emergencies, involving them in preparedness activities, and teaching them what to do during an emergency can give them a sense of control if a real emergency happens.

Teach Kids to Use 911

One of the most important lessons a parent or guardian can teach a child—regardless of whether they spend time home alone—is how and when to call 911.

Kate Elkins is a 911 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) specialist with the National 911 Program in the NHTSA Office of EMS. She has first-hand experience as a paramedic responding to calls from children.

“Kids can be incredibly powerful in a crisis,” she said. “They want to help themselves and their families. It’s important to talk to kids about how and when to call 911. And to let them know that 911 is a resource that can empower them.”

Here are some things you can do to help kids feel more comfortable about calling 911:

  • Explain the purpose of 911. They should dial 911 only for an emergency. An emergency is a serious situation when a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic is needed right away.(1)
  • Prepare kids to answer the 911 operator’s questions. Explain to them that the operator will ask several questions like, “What is your emergency? What is your address? What phone number can they call you back on?” And they will ask more detailed questions about who needs help, why they need help, and if it’s a medical emergency, they will ask a series of questions and may give directions on what to do to help.
  • Teach kids how to use the emergency call feature from a locked cell phone.
  • Give kids examples of when to call 911. For example, tell them to “Call 911 if someone is threatening or hurting someone else, if something is on fire (but you may need to call from a neighbor’s house if the fire is at your house), or someone is hurt, bleeding, or lying on the ground and not moving.”
  • Reassure kids that calling 911 is easy to do. Also, that operators want to help. Emphasize the importance of answering the operator’s questions honestly, following their directions, and staying on the phone until told to hang up.
  • Also, go over what to do if your child accidentally calls 911 and there is not an emergency. It is important to stay on the line and explain there is no emergency so that 911 does not send responders to investigate a hang-up call.

Deciding if a situation is an emergency can be difficult for a child. They might have to use their best judgment. Tell them it is better to call 911 if they are in doubt and there’s no time to ask a parent, guardian, or neighbor.

“Sometimes, you just need to give kids permission to call 911 if they’re scared,” said Elkins. “It’s ok. Public safety telecommunicators are trained to take these kinds of calls.”

Partner with Neighbors

Let children know that if an emergency happens, they should look for “the helpers” in their community. This could be a friendly neighbor, teacher, or adult relative.

Introduce your kids to trusted neighbors who might help in an emergency. If possible, share your contact information with them so that they will be able to reach you in an emergency. In return, offer to be an emergency contact for them and their kids.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing emergency scenarios with kids can help familiarize them with what they should do in an emergency and build up their confidence to respond.(2)

Role-play to help kids decide when and practice how to dial 911. Act out different scenarios, such as a tornado warning or a stranger coming to the door, when kids may need to take shelter, or call 911. Make cellphone passcode entry part of your 911 role play.

Elkins also recommends reaching out to your local EMS agency, fire department, and police department to arrange a visit. Ask them to talk to your kids about calling 911. Getting to know the people who answer the phone when they call 911 is another way to make kids feel more comfortable and confident about calling.

Learn more about how to prepare children for an emergency.

References

  1. https://www.911.gov/needtocallortext911.html
  2. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/homealone.pdf

Resources

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 (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.

 

 

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.

Resources

References

  1. https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/how_canning_preserves_foods.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/home-canning-and-botulism.html

Farm Animal Emergency Preparedness

Family looking at cows

One type of pet does not fit all. Not everyone is a dog or a cat person. Many people choose to raise farm animals.

Raising farm animals can bring lots of joy and is a great learning opportunity for families. However, they can have special needs when it comes to preparing for emergencies. Their owners should make sure they have a plan before a disaster happens.

Plan ahead to keep animals safe

Plan ahead to keep your animals safe and healthy during an emergency. Think of their unique needs when creating an emergency action plan.

HorsesFarm Animal Safety callout

From pulling a plow over a farmer’s field to carrying a cowboy across the open range, horses have always had an important role in society. Today, horses are generally considered companion animals. Close to 2 million U.S. households report owning a horse.(1)

Planning ahead for emergencies is important if you own horses because of their size and transportation needs. Do not wait until there’s an emergency to figure out where you will transport or how you will care for your horses.

The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that owners of horses take preparedness steps to:

  • Permanently identify each horse with a tattoo, microchip, brand, or photograph. Keep information about your horse’s age, sex, breed, and color with your important paperwork.
  • Keep halters ready for your horses. Attach a luggage tag with your horse’s name; your name, email address, and telephone number; and a second emergency telephone number to each halter.
  • Collect and protect veterinary records, identification photos, and health information. Store this important paperwork in a watertight envelope. Keep it with your family’s other important papers in a safe place that is easy to access.
  • Make plans to trailer your horse during an emergency. Find someone to help evacuate your horses if you don’t have your own trailer or enough room in your trailer for horses.(2)

Backyard poultry

Raising backyard poultry is an increasingly popular pastime. Many people keep poultry, which includes chicken, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys, for eggs or for meat. Take steps to keep your backyard poultry healthy, safe, and calm during an emergency(2):

  • Keep enough feed and water to last a week. Store food in a dry area 2 feet above the ground.
  • Take photos of your birds to help with identification in case they escape or get lost.
  • Complete an emergency action plan that includes contact information for your veterinarian.
  • Take steps to secure and weatherproof their coop by lining it with newspapers or other absorbent bedding material. Never bring poultry in the kitchen, dining room, or other areas where food is handled or consumed.

Livestock

Livestock can refer to animals like horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. Livestock owners should be prepared to protect their herds during an emergency. Having a plan in place can help you stay calm in an emergency.

Evacuation planning

If your emergency action plan is to evacuate with your animals, use the time before and between events to prepare. Act now to get some form of identification for every animal, reach out to experienced handlers who can help during an emergency, and gather enough food and water for each animal.(4) Have a shelter-in-place plan if evacuating your animals isn’t an option.

Sheltering in place

Although owners may plan for emergency evacuation of farm animals, this may not be possible. You may need to decide to move animals to a structure for protection or let them out to pasture.(2) It’s a decision that depends on the type of disaster and the amount of time you have to decide. State departments of agriculture and county extension services can help you with planning ahead.

Visit the CDC website for more information on how to prepare your pets and other animals for emergencies.

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/horses.html
  2. https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters
  3. https://www.ready.gov/pets

Resources

Must-Haves for Your First-Aid Kit

A first-aid kit and supplies.

First-aid kits are nothing new. They go back over 100 years to when, as the story goes, Robert Wood Johnson debuted the first-aid cabinet in 1888.(1)

First-aid kits have changed over the years, but they are as useful as ever. They make it possible for ordinary people to be the help until professional help arrives. You don’t need a special certification to provide first aid, but you do need the right supplies and education.

First-aid kit checklist

Kate Elkins is an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and 911 specialist in the Office of EMS and the National 911 Program. An active paramedic, Elkins also responds to 911 calls and serves as a medical specialist with Maryland Task Force 1, a FEMA urban search and rescue team.

First-hand experience has shown her how important having a well-stocked and maintained first-aid kit can be. “There are certain things you need to have at hand in the moment. In a crisis, you’re not going to have time to go to the store to get what you need,” Elkins points out.

The American Red Cross suggests that a first-aid kit for a family of four include the following items:

  • A first-aid guide
  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • 1 3-inch gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 3 x 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • A thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers

Supplement basic items with personal needs and bleeding-control essentials. Things like a commercial tourniquet, bandages, and a felt-tipped pen. Take bleeding-control training to use such and prepare for a bleeding emergency.

Remove, throw away, or use and replace any supplies before they expire. Set a calendar reminder on your smartphone to update the supplies in your kit every six months and/or as the healthcare needs of your family change.

Customize your kit

Think about the healthcare needs of your family when putting together a first-aid kit. For example:

  • If you have a family member with a severe allergy, include antihistamine medicine and an epinephrine injector.
  • If you have elderly family members with fragile skin, including a roll of paper tape can be useful for protecting delicate skin.
  • If you or a family member lives with diabetes, include a juice box, glucose tablets and gels, and an emergency glucagon injection kit.
  • Chewable, baby aspirin might help someone who has coronary artery disease, provided the person is not allergic to aspirin.

Elkins also suggests attaching a note to your kit with instructions on where to find other items around the house and how to act in specific emergencies. For example, you can use a note to remind you where sugary drinks and foods are kept in case of a diabetic emergency.

A person who is using a first-aid kit in an emergency might need to call 911 for assistance. Having the home or office address written on the outside of the kit itself can give users a handy location reference for 911 operators.

First aid as practical skill

A first-aid kit is a tool, but any tool is only as good as the person using it.

First-aid kits are one place where personal needs and practical skills come together. There are ways to prepare for emergencies that have nothing to do with collecting supplies. This includes learning practical skills that you can use to protect yourself and others.

Many practical skills are easy to learn. Some require special certification or formal training. Others just education. Practical skills include learning how to:

Family, friends, coworkers, and bystanders—not first responders—are often first on the scene in a medical emergency. Elkins has seen this many times in the field. “One time, we had a patient who had a very bad accident with a circular saw,” she recalls. “There was a lot of blood on the floor. The patient’s coworker, who had no formal training, put all his body weight on the wound and used it to slow the bleeding. He yelled for help until others came and called 911. He saved his coworker’s life because he made the right decision and took action.”

You can take action today. “You Are the Help Until Help Arrives” and “Stop the Bleed” are examples of training that teach you how to provide first care. A good first-aid kit and the practical skill to use it can help you save someone’s life.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies on the CDC website.

Resources

Reference

  1. Johnson & Johnson First-Aid Kit History
  2. American Heart Association Aspirin Guidance

 

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 (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.

Volunteers Prepare for Another Season of Disaster Response, Relief Work

A woman in a mask shakes the paw of a dog in a cage.
American Red Cross volunteer Gaenor Speed cares for a dog displaced by the Oregon wildfires in September 2020. (Photo: American Red Cross)

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.

American Red Cross volunteer Gaenor Speed stood six feet away from a couple who lost everything in the wildfires that burned through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon last September. The first thing she wanted to do was hug them.

“I’m a hugger,” said Speed, 78, a retired nurse. “It’s really hard listening to a sad story from far away with masks on and not being able to just give them a hug.”

The couple told her about their photos — of their wedding, their children, their grandchildren — all destroyed amid the ash and rubble that was their home.

“They asked me, ‘Do you think we’ll find them? Our photos?’” Speed said. “It was so sad. You just want to hold them.”

Speed says the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult, if not impossible, for volunteers to comfort survivors in the ways they are used to. CDC recommends people stay at least 6 feet (or about 2 arm lengths) from others to prevent getting sick.

“Everything changed with COVID-19,” she said. “It was like everything went upside down. Those of us who had been on deployments before were used to big shelters with lots of people, where we’d go around, sit on the side of their cots, talk to them and listen to their stories. Now, it’s so hard to be able to empathize. We look like we’re standing off a long way, which we are.”

Speed, who lives in Cape Coral, Fla., is one of the most active volunteers in the Red Cross South Florida Region. She has responded to more than 20 disasters across the country since 2016. She’s helped with emergency shelters, distributed food and supplies, and provided emotional support to victims.

Speed racked up frequent flyer miles in 2020. She deployed to Puerto Rico in response to an earthquake, the Florida Panhandle for a wildfire, and Louisiana after Hurricane Laura. She spent September in Oregon for the wildfires and returned to Florida in November for Tropical Storm Eta.

The pandemic and a record number of natural disasters have tested the resilience of first responders, emergency management officials, relief organizations, and volunteers like Speed.

Things aren’t expected to get easier. Researchers predict an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2021.(1) NOAA will issue its initial outlook for the 2021 season in late May.(2)

Hurricane season starts on May 15 in the North Pacific and June 1 in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Disaster relief organizations are preparing now.

The Red Cross partners with state and local agencies to put in place emergency plans for shelter, food distribution, and volunteer assistance. Those plans must also integrate mask requirements, facility temperature screenings, physical distancing measures, and cleaning and disinfecting practices.

“As we saw in 2020, disasters did not stop for the pandemic,” said Siara Campbell, regional communications manager for the South Florida Region. “It is imperative to make preparations now, and you need to prepare with the coronavirus situation in mind. You just have to be agile and ready to allocate resources that you may not have expected previously.”

Nicole Coates, director of emergency management and public safety for the Village of Wellington, Fla., agrees. The village is reviewing debris removal contracts, servicing generators, and putting emergency vendors on standby in advance of the hurricane season.

“The better prepared our residents are, the better prepared we are, so we start that public messaging as early as we can before storm season,” Coates said.

Speed knows the importance of preparing her community, as well. She’s helping to recruit volunteers in the hopes of finding others who, too, are willing and ready to deploy.

She believes everyone has something to offer.

“It’s the giving back,” she said. “We need everybody, and I like being in an organization where we’ve got different jobs, but we’re all working for the same goal: to deliver people from these terrible disasters and, as soon as we can, get them back to being able to carry on their lives again.”

Supporting voluntary organizations like the Red Cross is an example of how people can get involved during National Volunteer Month. Other ways you can help improve the preparedness and resilience of your community include participating in response drills and donating blood.

Visit the Prepare Your Health website for information on how to prepare for emergencies.

References

 

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 (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.

Emergency Preparedness Tips for Parents of Children with Special Healthcare Needs

A young girl wearing sunglasses on the beach.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. It is also a time of year when people must prepare for severe weather.

April, May, and June are peak months for tornadoes in many states. And the Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on June 1.

Emergencies come in all sizes and affect people in different ways. All emergencies require some amount of personal health preparedness beforehand to stay safe and healthy during and afterward. At a minimum that means stocking up on emergency supplies, such as food, water, prescriptions, and backup power sources.

For Jennifer Silliman and her family, it means that and more. Her 11-year-old daughter, Allyson, has autism. They live in South Florida, where they’ve experienced over a dozen hurricanes and tropical storms since moving there in 2003.

Preparing for emergencies can be challenging for families caring for a child with autism or other disability. But a little preparation now can make a big difference when an emergency happens.

Planning is paramount

All children have unique needs during an emergency. Preparedness planning for children with special healthcare needs is often more complicated because they may have:

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

A disaster can present some or all these difficulties at once.

Having a plan for how to stay healthy, informed, connected, and calm is important. If there is a child with special healthcare needs in your family, your emergency action plan should include an emergency care plan.

An emergency care plan is important paperwork that you and your child’s doctor can write together. It’s used to communicate information about your child to caregivers. During an emergency, this could include teachers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

“My biggest fear is that Allyson would get separated from me and my husband during an emergency,” says Jennifer. “Allyson is nonverbal, so she cannot tell people where she lives, what her phone number is, or how to contact her parents.”

Because of her communication challenges, Allyson wears a bracelet that has her full name and her parents’ names and contact information. “She wears it all the time. She never takes it off,” says Jennifer.

Nothing worthwhile is easy

When there is a hurricane in the forecast, Jennifer’s family makes sure they have the basics, such as water, batteries, and flashlights. But they must also prepare for Allyson’s personal needs.

Personal needs include the everyday items that she could not do without in an emergency. Allyson’s needs include a weighted blanket and a white noise machine to help her sleep and several favorite foods.

“My daughter has six foods that she eats every day, including honeydew melon and French toast sticks. Almost every food she eats must be refrigerated or cooked in a microwave and this can present challenges if the power goes out during a hurricane,” says Jennifer.

Some of Allyson’s other must-haves are noise-canceling headphones and a tablet preloaded with her favorite television shows and music. Then there’s the backup battery power that’s needed to run these things. All would be invaluable if her family ever had to evacuate to a shelter.

Strive for peace of mind

Preparing for an emergency can be stressful for all families, especially those with children with special healthcare needs. Having—and practicing—an emergency action plan can help families respond with confidence to the real thing.

Communication is key. It’s important for all families to talk to their children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and consider the child’s age and type of disability.

Even though Jennifer’s daughter, Allyson, does not have a lot of expressive language, she does understand when others talk to her. “We want to be respectful of Allyson, so we tell her ‘Hey, we might need to pack up and go,’ or ‘It might get really loud tonight, and the house might get dark.’ I think telling children what’s going on puts them at ease.”

After a disaster, parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers must know how to help children cope with their different and strong emotions. Some children react right away; others may show signs of difficulty much later. Coping with a disaster can be particularly difficult for children with disabilities.

Visit the Prepare Your Health website for more information on how to prepare for emergencies.

Resources

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 (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.

Stay Informed: How Scales Help Us Describe Disasters

Photo of palm trees bending in gale force winds

Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking. There were 30 named storms during the 2020 season. Thirteen of those became hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or greater). Six of those reached Category 3 or higher.(1)

Hurricanes are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Other scales are used by experts to explain and describe the intensity or severity of disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes. Below are descriptions of some of them.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was created in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Robert Simpson. Hurricanes are rated (or categorized) 1 to 5 based on their maximum sustained wind speed. The category relates wind speed to the kinds of property damage that are likely to occur from wind.(2)

All hurricanes produce life-threatening winds, but only storms rated Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes. Major hurricanes cause devastating to catastrophic wind damage.Hurricane evacuation sign

Hurricanes of all categories can produce storm surge that requires people to evacuate and take other preventative measures.

The Saffir-Simpson scale only provides information about wind damage. It does not describe damage from other hazards, such as storm surge, inland flooding, or tornadoes spawned by the storm.

Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. At least 1,500 people died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many of those deaths are attributed either directly or indirectly to storm surge.(3)

Evacuation orders are more likely to be based on storm surge or inland flooding than on the Saffir-Simpson category. It is critical for emergency officials and the public to stay informed of the forecast and to prepare regardless of whether they live near the coast or well inland.

Learn ways to prepare for hurricanes.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale

Researcher Ted Fujita and Allen Pearson of the National Weather Service (NWS), introduced the original Fujita Scale for rating tornadoes in 1971.

Wind researchers and engineers provided substantial enhancements to the scale in the early 2000s, called the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. NWS adopted the scale in 2007. Like the F-Scale, the EF Scale estimates a tornado’s intensity on a scale, from 0 to 5, based on surveyed damage.(4)

Photo of person in the foreground of residential tornado destruction
Photo credit: FEMA

NWS is the only federal agency with the authority to provide official ratings for tornadoes. Ratings are not based on actual measurements of wind speed; although, some researchers have equipment that can estimate speeds through radar velocity data. Ratings are estimates of wind speed based on assessed damage to structures and vegetation. The result is a range of likely
wind speeds.

The most recent EF5 tornado struck Moore, Okla., in May 2013.(5) It killed 24 people, injured many more, and caused billions of dollars in damage. After that tornado, the City of Moore passed building codes requiring new homes be built to withstand at least EF2 wind speeds.

Learn ways to prepare for tornadoes.

Earthquake Magnitude Scales

The Richter Magnitude scale was developed in 1935 by Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology and was followed later by many additional magnitude scales. The Moment Magnitude scale is used to rate the magnitude (the amount of energy released) of an earthquake, and is preferred by scientists to determine earthquake magnitudes today. Magnitude is not determined by assessing the damage caused by an earthquake but by using the shaking recorded at the surface as measured by instruments known as seismographs.(6)Graphic depicting earthquake waveforms

Magnitude is expressed on the Moment Magnitude scale in whole numbers and decimal fractions. A whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured energy. Each whole number step in the magnitude scale corresponds to the release of about 31 times more energy than the amount associated with the preceding whole number value.

Another important scale used by earthquake scientists is the Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) scale. The MMI scale estimates the intensity of shaking in the region around the earthquake epicenter with a range of values that varies across the landscape corresponding to felt reports of shaking and damage.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 struck the southern California city of Northridge in 1994. The quake killed 57 people, injured more than 9,000, and displaced over 20,000. It caused an estimated $20 billion in property losses and infrastructure damages. It is considered the costliest earthquake in U.S. history.(7)

As a result, building codes changed and retrofitting was done at hospitals and on freeways and water pipes to mitigate (or reduce) the effect of the next earthquake.(8, 9) State and local responders are prepared for the next earthquake with emergency plans and early warning systems, like the MyShake App.

Learn ways to prepare for earthquakes.

Reference

  1. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/record-breaking-atlantic-hurricane-season-draws-to-end
  2. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php
  3. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/
  4. https://www.weather.gov/oun/efscale
  5. https://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/f5torns.html
  6. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/moment-magnitude-richter-scale-what-are-different-magnitude-scales-and-why-are-there-so-many?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
  7. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/seismometers-seismographs-seismograms-whats-difference-how-do-they-work?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
  8. https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/northridge-ca-earthquake-open-file-report-94-179-i
  9. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/17/686020821/25-years-after-the-northridge-earthquake-is-la-ready-for-the-big-one

Resources

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 (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.

Stay Informed: How Scales Help Us Describe Disasters

Photo of palm trees bending in gale force winds

Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking. There were 30 named storms during the 2020 season. Thirteen of those became hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or greater). Six of those reached Category 3 or higher.(1)

Hurricanes are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Other scales are used by experts to explain and describe the intensity or severity of disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes. Below are descriptions of some of them.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was created in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Robert Simpson. Hurricanes are rated (or categorized) 1 to 5 based on their maximum sustained wind speed. The category relates wind speed to the kinds of property damage that are likely to occur from wind.(2)

All hurricanes produce life-threatening winds, but only storms rated Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes. Major hurricanes cause devastating to catastrophic wind damage.Hurricane evacuation sign

Hurricanes of all categories can produce storm surge that requires people to evacuate and take other preventative measures.

The Saffir-Simpson scale only provides information about wind damage. It does not describe damage from other hazards, such as storm surge, inland flooding, or tornadoes spawned by the storm.

Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. At least 1,500 people died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many of those deaths are attributed either directly or indirectly to storm surge.(3)

Evacuation orders are more likely to be based on storm surge or inland flooding than on the Saffir-Simpson category. It is critical for emergency officials and the public to stay informed of the forecast and to prepare regardless of whether they live near the coast or well inland.

Learn ways to prepare for hurricanes.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale

Researcher Ted Fujita and Allen Pearson of the National Weather Service (NWS), introduced the original Fujita Scale for rating tornadoes in 1971.

Wind researchers and engineers provided substantial enhancements to the scale in the early 2000s, called the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. NWS adopted the scale in 2007. Like the F-Scale, the EF Scale estimates a tornado’s intensity on a scale, from 0 to 5, based on surveyed damage.(4)

Photo of person in the foreground of residential tornado destruction
Photo credit: FEMA

NWS is the only federal agency with the authority to provide official ratings for tornadoes. Ratings are not based on actual measurements of wind speed; although, some researchers have equipment that can estimate speeds through radar velocity data. Ratings are estimates of wind speed based on assessed damage to structures and vegetation. The result is a range of likely
wind speeds.

The most recent EF5 tornado struck Moore, Okla., in May 2013.(5) It killed 24 people, injured many more, and caused billions of dollars in damage. After that tornado, the City of Moore passed building codes requiring new homes be built to withstand at least EF2 wind speeds.

Learn ways to prepare for tornadoes.

Earthquake Magnitude Scales

The Richter Magnitude scale was developed in 1935 by Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology and was followed later by many additional magnitude scales. The Moment Magnitude scale is used to rate the magnitude (the amount of energy released) of an earthquake, and is preferred by scientists to determine earthquake magnitudes today. Magnitude is not determined by assessing the damage caused by an earthquake but by using the shaking recorded at the surface as measured by instruments known as seismographs.(6)Graphic depicting earthquake waveforms

Magnitude is expressed on the Moment Magnitude scale in whole numbers and decimal fractions. A whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured energy. Each whole number step in the magnitude scale corresponds to the release of about 31 times more energy than the amount associated with the preceding whole number value.

Another important scale used by earthquake scientists is the Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) scale. The MMI scale estimates the intensity of shaking in the region around the earthquake epicenter with a range of values that varies across the landscape corresponding to felt reports of shaking and damage.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 struck the southern California city of Northridge in 1994. The quake killed 57 people, injured more than 9,000, and displaced over 20,000. It caused an estimated $20 billion in property losses and infrastructure damages. It is considered the costliest earthquake in U.S. history.(7)

As a result, building codes changed and retrofitting was done at hospitals and on freeways and water pipes to mitigate (or reduce) the effect of the next earthquake.(8, 9) State and local responders are prepared for the next earthquake with emergency plans and early warning systems, like the MyShake App.

Learn ways to prepare for earthquakes.

Reference

  1. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/record-breaking-atlantic-hurricane-season-draws-to-end
  2. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php
  3. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/
  4. https://www.weather.gov/oun/efscale
  5. https://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/f5torns.html
  6. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/moment-magnitude-richter-scale-what-are-different-magnitude-scales-and-why-are-there-so-many?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
  7. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/seismometers-seismographs-seismograms-whats-difference-how-do-they-work?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
  8. https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/northridge-ca-earthquake-open-file-report-94-179-i
  9. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/17/686020821/25-years-after-the-northridge-earthquake-is-la-ready-for-the-big-one

Resources

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 (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.

Threats Unseen: Beware of Norovirus During an Emergency

Woman clutches her stomach as if feeling nauseous

Natural disasters are unpredictable. Often, we don’t know when or where they will happen or if we will have to leave our homes because of them. Evacuations for hurricanes and wildfires can force people into emergency shelters, where close quarters, shared spaces, and high-touch surfaces can make it easy for norovirus to spread.Graphic that defines norovirus. Text also in body of article.

Norovirus outbreaks occurred in most evacuation shelters in Butte and Glenn counties, Calif., during the Camp Fire in November 2018. Public-health officials identified 292 people ill with acute gastroenteritis caused by norovirus.(1)

A norovirus outbreak among evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was also reported in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That outbreak might have affected approximately 1,000 evacuees and relief workers.(2)

What is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Most “stomach bugs” are likely norovirus infections because it’s a relatively common virus. Anyone can catch norovirus from direct contact with an infected person, touching a contaminated surface, or eating contaminated food. It only takes a very small amount of virus particles to make
you sick. The number of particles that could fit on the head of a pin is enough to infect more than 1,000 people.

A person infected with norovirus usually starts to feel ill 12 to 48 hours after they’ve been exposed. The most common symptoms of norovirus infection are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. But it can cause fever, headache, and body aches, too.

Be Prepared

Follow the guidance of local officials when going to an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will tell you when and where to take shelter and what to bring with you.

Act now to prepare “go kits” for family members. Include everyday personal items you cannot do without and other personal protective supplies, such as hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, bar or liquid soap, disinfectant wipes and spray, and at least two masks per person age 2 or older in your household.

If your Emergency Action Plan is to go to a shelter in an evacuation, your kit might also include plenty of nonperishable food, mess kits (e.g., reusable cups, plates, bowls utensils). Also, pack paper towels and disposable plastic gloves to clean up after a sick family member. If you are cleaning up after someone vomits or has diarrhea, use a bleach-based cleaner to prevent the spread of norovirus.

Wash Your Hands

Clean hands are essential to health, whether in an emergency or day-to-day life. Handwashing can keep you healthy and prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections, like norovirus, from one person to the next. Unseen woman washing her hands with soap in a sink.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water especially after using the toilet or changing diapers; always before eating, preparing, or handling food; and before giving yourself or someone else medicine. Here’s how:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under the water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in addition to hand washing. But you should not use hand sanitizer as a substitute for washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers aren’t as effective at removing norovirus particles as washing hands with soap and water.

If you start to feel sick, continue to wash your hands often with soap and water and try to avoid direct contact with others. You should not prepare food for others or provide health care while you are sick, and for at least 2 days after symptoms stop.

Learn More

CDC and state and local health departments help to raise awareness among healthcare providers and the public about norovirus and how to prevent it. Learn more about how they work to prevent and stop norovirus outbreaks.

For more suggestions on how to prepare your health for emergencies, visit https://www.cdc.gov/prepyourhealth/.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6920a1.htm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5440a3.htm


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 (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.