Preparing for a Disaster
The most important thing that you can do is to be informed and prepared. Disaster prevention includes both being prepared as well as reducing damages (mitigation). You should use common sense in your disaster prevention.
Disaster Prevention should include developing a family and pet plan based on your vulnerability to the Hurricane Hazards. You should keep a written plan and share your plan with other friends or family. Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family. Know your home's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind. Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet. Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate. Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911. Check your insurance coverage. Flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
Additionally, every family should have a disaster preparedness kit. Your disaster preparedness kit should include water, food, blankets, pillows, clothing, flashlights, batteries, a radio, cash, important documents, pet care items, and any other special items that you might need. Make sure that your emergency supplies are non-perishable and that you have a first-aid kit. You might also want to take First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.
Disaster prevention includes modifying your home to strengthen it against storms so that you can be as safe as possible. There are things that you can do to make your home more secure and able to withstand stronger storms. The most important precaution you can take to reduce damage to your home and property is to protect the areas where wind can enter. According to recent wind technology research, it is important to strengthen the exterior of your house so wind and debris do not tear large openings in it. You can do this by protecting and reinforcing your roof, straps, shutters, doors, and garage doors. Remember: building codes reflect the lessons experts have learned from past catastrophes. Contact the local building code official to find out what requirements are necessary for your home improvement projects.
One of the most important decisions you will have to make is whether or not to evacuate. If you are asked to evacuate, you should do so without delay. But unless you live in a coastal or low-lying area, an area that floods frequently, or in manufactured housing, it is unlikely that emergency managers will ask you to evacuate.
Health officials ask individuals to be aware of the warning signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Warning signs of exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse rate will be fast and weak and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms are severe or if the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, help the victim to cool off and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.
To avoid becoming dehydrated, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. This is particularly true on days when temperatures reach 90 degree Fahrenheit and higher. Do not wait until you get thirsty; drink to prevent thirst.
Babies from birth – 6 months: usually only need breast milk or formula. On hot days infants should only be offered a maximum of 4 ounces per day of sterilized water from a bottle.
Babies from 6 – 12 months: breast or formula-fed babies receive some foods and juices that contain water. They may be offered 2-4 ounces of juice from a cup each day. In addition, on hot days they should be given a maximum of 4-8 ounces of sterilized water each day.
Children 12 months and older: need 64 ounces or more of fluid each day. They should be reminded to drink juice and water throughout the day and encouraged to drink even more on hot days.
Adults should drink: 64 ounces of water each day (one-half gallon). When exposed to temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, they should drink even more water.
Mold in Water-damaged Buildings
In the event that you are forced to clean and repair your storm-damaged homes and buildings, health officials recommend that you take precautionary measures to avoid indoor air quality problems. Moisture that enters buildings from leaks or flooding accelerates mold growth. Molds can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions and continue to damage materials long after the storm. Failure to control moisture and mold can present short and long- term health risks.
To protect against health risks associated with mold, remove standing water from your home or office and remove wet materials. If mold growth has already occurred, carefully remove or clean the moldy material. Consider using personal protective equipment when cleaning or removing mold. Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should not clean or remove moldy materials.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and is highly poisonous. Depending on the level of exposure, CO may cause fatigue, weakness, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death. You can avoid CO exposure by taking precautions with gas-powered appliances and charcoal or gas grills.
The following precautions are also recommended to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
- Do not use gas-powered generators or pressure washers indoors or in the garage.
- If you suspect you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and go outside.
In cases of severe CO poisoning, call 911 or the Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.
In the event of flooding and hurricane damage, health officials may advise individuals who are under a boil water notice to take precautions against contaminated water. Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites (freezing will not disinfect water). Though the risk of illness is minimal, individuals who have recent surgical wounds, are immunosuppressed, or have a chronic illness may want to consider using bottled or boiled water for cleansing until any such advisory is lifted. Even if someone has consumed potentially contaminated water from either a public water system or a private well before they were aware of the boil water advisory, the likelihood of becoming ill is low. Anyone experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, with or without fever, should seek medical attention.
In the case of an electrical outage, it is important to take careful precautions to ensure food safety. The risk of food poisoning is heightened when refrigerators and ovens are inaccessible. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. Just remember: When in doubt, throw it out! People can practice safe food handling and prevent foodborne illness by following some simple steps:
- A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled, so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to insure a constant cold temperature.
- Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold,” or re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals.
- Eggs and other foods need to be stored in 40 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly below.
- Wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, after handling uncooked food, after playing with a pet, after handling garbage, after tending to someone who is sick or injured, after blowing your nose, and after coughing or sneezing.
- Fight “cross-contamination,” the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards or utensils. Never place any type of food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.
- Use a meat thermometer to insure that food reaches a safe internal temperature.
For additional food safety information, call the toll-free USDA/FSIS Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
Measures to Prevent Mosquito-borne Illnesses
When dealing with floodwaters, it is important for people to protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases. The public can remain diligent in their personal mosquito protection efforts by avoiding being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood and wearing clothing that covers all skin. When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET are recommended. It is not recommended to use DEET on children younger than 2 months old. Check your home to rid it of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs. Additionally, make sure that windows remain closed or are sealed completely by screens at night. One of the keys to prevention is the elimination of mosquito breeding sites, which includes cleaning out eaves and gutters, turning over or removing empty plastic pots, picking up all beverage containers and cups, and removing vegetation or obstructions in drainage ditches that prevent the flow of water.
Hygiene After the Storm
After a hurricane, basic hygiene is very important. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before eating, after toilet use, after participating in cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated by floodwater or sewage. Flooding that occurs after the hurricane may mean that water contains fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If a wound or sore develops redness, swelling or drainage, see a physician. Do not allow children to play in floodwater. They can be exposed to water contaminated with fecal matter. Do not allow children to play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use one quarter cup of bleach in one gallon of water.
To prevent fire hazards in the case of a power outage, use battery-powered lanterns and flashlights rather than candles. If you must use candles, make sure you put them in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items.
Know evacuation routes, and listen to local authorities when asked to evacuate. Everyone should know their risks. Whether you live in a coastal community or inland, speak with your insurance agent now about flood insurance and review your homeowner’s policy. Every state is at risk for flooding and homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is a cost-effective way to prepare financially for floods. To learn more about your risk and flood insurance, visit the website of the National Flood Insurance Program.
To stay informed during a storm keep a battery-powered radio for weather and evacuation information should you experience a power outage and have extra batteries on hand.
Contact your local Citizen Corps Council to learn what efforts your community is taking to prepare for hurricane season, and learn how you can help. To find a nearby Citizen Corps Council or to learn more about Citizen Corps' Partner Programs, visit www.citizencorps.gov.