Stay Informed of Your Family Health History

dinner settingThanksgiving Day is National Family Health History Day

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

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

Do your research

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

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

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

Try to gather the following information for each person:

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

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

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

Paint a portrait

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

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

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

Keep a personal health record

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

Epilepsy and Emergency Preparedness

purple ribbon

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

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

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

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

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

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

#PrepYourHealth for an Emergency

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

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

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

Learn more about epilepsy and emergency preparedness.

Seizure Action Plans

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

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

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

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

when to call 911

Helping Others with Seizure First Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

Burn Institute Teaches Kids Burn Prevention, Fire Safety

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.

A cast of green and purple puppets breaks into song. The audience of 3-year-olds responds as you’d expect, by dancing in their seats.

Puppets, song, and dance are how the performers of “Let’s Stay Safe from Fires & Burns” introduce preschoolers to the topics of fire safety and burn prevention. Puppets named Greg and Jen teach children about the dangers of matches. “Mr. Match” emphasizes the importance of stop-drop-and-roll.

After the show, students receive bags of educational materials, including coloring books, stickers, and a safety checklist to share with their families.

“Burns Don’t Discriminate”

The Burn Institute in San Diego leads the effort to reduce burn injuries and empower people with burn injuries in the area. They place particular focus on children.

Susan Day is the Burn Institute’s executive director. “Burns affect people of all ages,” she said. “Burn and fire prevention education can never start too early.”

Children age 5 and under have more than double the risk of dying in a fire than any other age group. The rate of child deaths from burns is seven times higher in low to middle-income countries, as compared to high-income, per the World Health Organization.(1)

Tessa Haviland is the institute’s director of marketing and events. “Burns don’t discriminate based on any age, demographic, socioeconomic status, or anything like that,” she said. “So, it’s really important that we reach all communities.”

Fire-Safe Kids

In 2009, the Burn Institute developed the Fire-Safe Kids program in collaboration with the local fire department and the University of California San Diego Burn Center. The goal is to teach kindergarteners through third graders about fire safety.

The Burn Institute’s team of staff, interns, and volunteers tailor programs to the needs of different age groups and communities. Puppets and songs are used with young children. Presenters rely on active storytelling and games to teach older kids. These presentations tell the story of three friends and their dog as they learn about best fire practices, escape plans, and burn management.

The program was expanded in 2015 to include fourth through sixth graders and incorporate topics like kitchen safety, the risks of electricity, and the consequences of fire-play. Maria Leushina is a former intern at the Burn Institute who now leads Fire-Safe Kids as the prevention education coordinator.

“We keep the presentations interactive,” Leushina said. “We ask the kids questions as we go. We have them demonstrate stop-drop-and-roll, crawling to a door, and checking it with the back of their hand. We also have some videos as well.”

A Family Approach

Tessa Haviland underscores the importance of taking a family approach to fire prevention and emergency preparedness.

“When an emergency happens, there’s not always time to sit down and make sure that everyone knows [the plan],” Haviland said. “If everyone’s part of the [planning] process, they’ll know what to do, where to go, and how to get out of the house.”

For more information on how to make a home fire escape plan, visit the Ready Campaign website.

Inclusion Creates Community

In its outreach efforts, the Burn Institute also strives to bring down societal and language barriers. The Institute recently added Spanish captions to all the Fire-Safe Kids slides. Pre-recorded presentations are available in multiple languages. And the puppet show is performed in English and Spanish.

The Burn Institute also leads outreach efforts to help people with burn injuries and survivors of fires cope with trauma. The institute hosts support groups, holds retreats, and offers specialized programming to help people care for each other and heal.

“The trauma of a burn doesn’t end when you leave the hospital; some of that emotional and long-term scarring can last throughout a lifetime,” Haviland said. “The commitment of the Burn Institute to form communities for these burn survivors [so they] have a safe space where they’re able to connect and mentor each other about the struggles, but also [share] the successes that they have––it’s something truly motivational.”





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

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

Summer Camp Inspires, Prepares Students for Medical Careers

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.

Students in Dr. Abdullah Hasan Pratt’s emergency preparedness program have seen friends and family die. They’ve been in positions to help others during health emergencies but didn’t know how.

Pratt is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Chicago. He started the Medical Careers Exposure and Emergency Preparedness program in 2018. His purpose is to address health disparities in some of Chicago’s most underserved communities.

The South Side communities that neighbor the University of Chicago campus rank among the highest in the city for heart disease, strokes, and incidents of gun violence.(1) Pratt said the program teaches teens who live in those areas the practical skills they need to stay calm and respond in a medical emergency.

Inspiring Leaders

“Emergency preparedness skills help empower them to do something, to act, to be a leader when these situations happen,” Pratt said. The seven-week summer program comes at no cost to the students. Each session includes a lecture, followed by a practical component that puts the students’ new skills to the test. Weekly topics vary and include first aid, clinical skills, doctor-patient interaction, and medical career advice.

Samantha Morris is a rising second-year medical student from New Orleans. She said the opportunity to engage with local communities in Chicago was a reason that she got involved with the program.

“I love teaching and enjoy interacting with students,” said Morris, after showing two of the program’s participants how to take a blood pressure reading. She said the practical sessions help students gain confidence in their skills.

The program includes a medical careers exposure component. Pratt said it aims to address the disparities within healthcare professions in the community. “There’s a paucity of young doctors that actually come from the community that they advocate for,” he said.

Pratt explains the driving forces behind the program are the medical school and community volunteers. They come from similar neighborhoods in Chicago and across the U.S.

“How often do you get someone who’s first generation? How often do you get someone who comes from Roseland or Englewood? How often do you get someone who’s lost a brother and four of their closest best friends to gun violence?” he said.

Having volunteers and medical professionals that can relate to the students personally helps the program succeed.

“I think that’s why you don’t see as many of these programs,” Pratt said. “Because it takes an intimate knowledge of the problems almost to the point where you’ve suffered. You’ve been traumatized, you are no different than your patients, no different than these students. I don’t see them as any different than me.”

Building Relationships

The program works to foster long-term relationships and mentorship that encourages participants to give back to the community throughout their careers.

“And that’s what I want for them. I want them to look up one day and say, ‘That’s my big sister, and now they’re a young doctor or nurse practitioner, and they can now collaborate on things,’ but it’s been built for years, that relationship,” Pratt said.

It’s not just the program participants who benefit from the mentorship. The volunteers, all of whom are at different stages of their medical careers, are mentees to the students and each other. Pratt sees the benefits of mentorship first-hand. “We’re continuing to guide them in their careers,” he said. “They’re meeting people who are going to help them become better applicants, better candidates to get into the schools or the professions that they choose.”

Nycholle Warne is a certified nursing assistant who joined the program as a volunteer to give back to the community. She said if a program like this had been available to her in high school, she’d be further along in her career.

“The resources, support, and reaching out to people put you in the right direction,” Warne said. With Pratt’s guidance, she recently started working towards her master’s in nursing.

Pratt’s program prioritizes the students rather than overheads. Free use of university facilities and donated equipment help him keep the focus on preparing teens in disproportionately affected communities. Pratt would like to see the program replicated in cities across the U.S. He hopes that other communities with limited resources can create programs inspired by what they’ve built in Chicago.

“A dream of ours is that any student fresh off the streets can hear about what we do, go to our website, and be linked to the corresponding programs,” Pratt said. “My goal is to connect them with people who they can say ‘I’m her. I want to be him. I’m already him. He walked my shoes. He did it. I can do it.’”




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

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

Risk Communication: Plan with the Whole Community

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

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

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

Why It Matters

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

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

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

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

Emergency Planning Can Save Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new CDC resource for emergency planning

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

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

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

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


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

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

More Than Meals: MOW Delivers Preparedness, Response Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.




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

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



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

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

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

What we learned over the past year

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

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

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

Adapting disaster sheltering for the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare and protect your health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Create Co(i)mmunity. Get Vaccinated.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance highlighting the importance of vaccination for people of all ages.

Life has been anything but routine lately. A sometimes overlooked result of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people have missed routine medical checkups, routine screenings, and recommended vaccinations.

Recommended vaccines

Vaccines aren’t just for children. Adults need them to avoid getting and spreading certain serious diseases that can result in missed work, medical bills, and problems taking care of others, as well as serious illness, or even death.(1)

Vaccines for adults are recommended based on different factors like a person’s age, health, lifestyle, jobs, and travel. All adults need:

  • Flu vaccine. An annual flu vaccine is recommended for everyone but is especially important for adults with certain chronic health conditions, pregnant people, and those who are 65 years and older.
  • Tdap vaccine: If they have never gotten one before, a Tdap vaccine helps protect against pertussis (whooping cough). Pregnant people should get a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
  • Td vaccine:(tetanus, diphtheria) or Tdap shot every 10 years.(1)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23): If they are 65 years and older or 19–64 years old and have certain health conditions or smoke cigarettes. In addition, adults 65 years and older may discuss and decide, with their clinician, to receive a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against serious illnesses like meningitis, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.
  • Shingles vaccine: Two doses of shingles vaccine for everyone 50 years of age and older. Your risk of shingles and complications increases as you age. Shingles vaccine provides strong protection from shingles and long-term nerve pain.
  • HPV vaccine: HPV vaccination is also recommended through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger. For adults aged 27 years and older, talk with your doctor about HPV vaccine.
  • COVID-19 vaccine: CDC recommends vaccination for all adults and children of certain ages.(2)

Take this quiz to find out what other vaccines may be recommended for you. Then talk with your doctor to make sure you get the vaccines that are right for you. Some adults with specific health conditions should not get certain vaccines or should wait to get them.(1)

Staying up to date on vaccinations helps protect you and others in your family and community. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans get sick and some die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines.(3)

Vaccine records

Today, people move, travel, and change healthcare providers often. This can make it hard to keep an accurate vaccination record. If you don’t have copies of your vaccination records, ask for help from:

  • Your current or previous doctor or medical provider
  • Your parents or caregivers
  • Your high school or college health services group
  • Previous employers (including the military) that may have required vaccinations
  • Your state health department to see if they can direct you to their immunization registry

It’s a good idea to try and keep track of your own vaccinations. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or vaccination provider for a vaccination record form or download one. Take it with you to health visits. Ask your vaccination provider to sign and date the form for each vaccine you receive.(4)

After getting a COVID-19 vaccine, you should get a small, white card with information about which vaccine you received, when you received it, and where you received it. This card is a vaccination record.(5). As such, it is important that you take steps to check and protect it:

  1. Check your card to make sure everything is correct.
  2. Take a picture of the front and back of the card with your cellphone or a camera.
  3. Use plastic envelopes for vaccine cards. Lamination is not recommended in case future shots are recommended. A photocopy can be laminated.
  4. Store your card in a secure, fireproof, and water-resistant bin or safe.

Vaccination records are examples of important paperwork that you need to collect and protect. Keeping a record and storing it in a safe place can save you time and unnecessary hassle later.

Important paperwork

The term “important paperwork” applies to any documents and personal data that you might need in an emergency or disaster.

What to collect

How to protect

Once you’ve collected your important paperwork, take steps to proofread and protect it. Store paperwork someplace that is a) easily accessible and b) safe from theft, fire, flood, and other emergencies.

Some ways to keep your important paperwork safe and secure include:

  • Scanning or saving to your computer important paperwork and personal items, like family photos. Creating digital duplicates of originals makes it easier to share the information, helps preserve the original, and serves as a backup in case the original is destroyed
  • Storing external drives and hardcopies of important papers in a fireproof and water-resistant file organizer, container, or storage bag with a trusted friend or relative or in a safety deposit box
  • Telling family members, friends, or trusted neighbors where you keep your important paperwork

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies.




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

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


Food Preservation: Home Canning Safety

Many people discovered new hobbies during the pandemic.

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

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

Why preserve food?

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

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

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

Home canning

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to can safely

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

Canning techniques

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

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

Pressure canning tools

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

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

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

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

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

Storage & maintenance of canned goods

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

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

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