Natural disaster preparedness tips

disaster plan

We all know the drill: Watch the local weather forecast, listen for the warning sirens and take cover in the safest place we can find — a hallway, an office stairwell, an interior room away from windows.

Then we hunker down, ride out the storm and pray we still have power afterwards. If we’re prepared, we have an emergency kit on hand with the essentials, including flashlights, non-perishable food items and first aid supplies.

In June, Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas participated in a county-wide disaster drill called “Operation Thunderbolt.” It’s a Dallas County Emergency Management exercise that simulated a tornado touching down in the Dallas County area, creating a theoretical surge in capacity at all local hospitals.

This is a very real scenario, given that North Texas is in the southern region of “Tornado Alley.” The disaster drill reenactment included local volunteers who acted as “mock” patients complete with “moulage,” prosthetic cinema-quality makeup, to simulate injuries. Medical staff members in the Baylor Dallas emergency department responded as if they were real patients.

We learned all too well how devastating a tornado can be to a hospital when an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, MO in May 2011. The tornado leveled most of the town and killed 158 people, with thousands more injured. St. John’s Regional Medical Center was directly in its path.

To learn from that scenario, members of the Baylor emergency management team visited St. John’s to understand how they mobilized patients while simultaneously responding to the thousands who were injured. They applied what they learned to the Dallas disaster drill.

What they took away confirmed some of the disaster plans already in place at Baylor Scott & White hospitals.

As National Preparedness Month comes to a close, we want to share with you some of the tips our emergency management team has learned through these drills and how you can apply an “All Hazards Approach” at your workplace or home.

1.) Be informed: Educate yourself on potential disasters in your area.

“One of the worst things you can do is pretend something like the Joplin tornado could never happen to you,” said Nick Sloan, director of the Baylor emergency management team. “That kind of attitude can be dangerous. Anything can happen, but being prepared will better equip you to handle a disaster before, during and after it occurs. When you know your risks and plan for them appropriately, you can help relieve additional stress and worry if a disaster strikes.”

2.) Make a plan: Make a family or workplace plan for what to do when a disaster occurs.

“It’s essential that you have a plan about where to meet and how you will communicate if the power is out and cell phone access is down,” Sloan said. “In Joplin, Facebook and other social media tools were heavily used to communicate vital information to the public and for families to locate their loved ones. Your family or workplace could practice disaster drills just like we do at our hospitals. Planning for an emergency and practicing what to do can go a long way.”

Sloan says to follow the three C’s of disaster planning: Coordinate, collaborate and communicate.

3.) Have a kit: A 72-hour emergency kit is recommended for any household or business. The kit includes the necessary food, water and supplies needed after an emergency. You can find a comprehensive emergency kit list at Ready.gov. To see how to assemble an emergency kit, check out this video created by Sloan.

“For example, when visiting Joplin, we realized we needed more tools to function in extreme darkness, so we developed power outage kits for every floor and nurses’ station,” Sloan said. “These kits include everything from a simple doorstop to power strips to head lamps. This kit should also include copies of your family’s important documents, such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, etc. If your home has been damaged and you need to leave, you may need these important documents to identify yourself.”

“Believe it or not, the techniques we use in the event of a large-scale hospital disaster can be applied to families, schools, and other organizations,” he said. “This simple approach can be implemented regardless of where you work or live.”

Sloan adds these additional pointers to consider if you are at home and your local news interrupts your regular programming to cover a severe weather alert:

  • Don’t change the channel: keep watching the news, and gather as much information as possible about the location of the storm in relation to where you are. Pay attention to which direction the storm is headed. Are you in the hazard area? What are the anticipated impacts (lightening, hail, flooding, tornadoes)?
  • Bring pets inside.
  • Decide, as the storm is approaching, where the most central room is on the ground floor of your home.
  • Take any steps necessary to ready this room should your family/pets need to hunker down/shelter in place. Move boxes, clothes, coats or items that might cause further injury, such as scissors, mirrors, etc.
  • Locate and test flashlights. Storms often arrive early into late evening, when there is little or no sunlight. Have flashlights for each family member.
  • Put on your shoes. Most of us walk around barefoot in our homes. If your home/neighborhood is hit by a tornado, glass, wood and other debris with sharp edges will litter your area. Protect your feet and your loved ones should the worst occur. It can be difficult to find these items after the fact.

About the author

Ashley Howland
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Ashley works in digital communications and social media. She enjoys covering health care news and is interested in health care social media.

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Natural disaster preparedness tips