New Threats Require New Approach to Preparedness
Being prepared for an emergency in Southern Illinois can mean a lot of different things, but to a wife and mother or even a single woman, it means just one more thing to plan for.
Whitney Matheny of Bi-County Public Health told women at the Women’s Health Conference at John A. Logan College last month that they might want to consider emergency kits at Christmas gifts. She is.
And, if they had emergency kits, it might be time to update them as the threats and recommendations have changed.
Southern Illinois has been home to the worst tornado in recorded history, the tri-state tornado in 1925 killed 625 people in southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and southern Indiana. Almost two centuries ago, it was home to the worst earthquake in the continental United States, three of them actually.
Steve Land, Whitney’s co-presenter representing the Williamson County Emergency Management Agency, said the three quakes in the winter of 1811-1812 were before the Richter scale was invented, but geologists estimate that they measured better than 8.0 on that scale. They rang church bells in Boston and changed the course of the Mississippi River.
And all of that, is old news to the most prepared of Southern Illinois women. They have emergency supplies, including water and food, extra clothes and first aid kits set aside. But those old kits need to be updated to reflect a more contemporary set of threats.
Now, the emergency preparedness gurus across the state are adding pandemic flu and terrorist attacks to the list of things people need to be prepared for and that changes the list of things that people need to include in their emergency kits.
“Communicable diseases have been on the rise,” Whitney said, pointing to recent outbreaks of measles, mumps, and meningitis. If there were a wide scale outbreak of those or other diseases, the country has the Strategic National Stockpile, large quantities of medicine and medical supplies to treat them. The supplies can be dispensed to any area within 12 hours and the medicine and medical care would be free to everyone.
But people need to be able to keep their families safe until those medical supplies can arrive and that means being prepared, she said. So, one of the newest additions suggested for emergency kits is plastic Sheeting, preferably already cut to the right size to completely seal at least one room of your home off from the outside.
In the event of a biological attack or a contagious disease, it might be necessary to avoid contact with other people until public health officials give the all clear.
Another change in emergency preparedness that people have become more aware of since Hurricane Katrina is the need to plan for their pets. While Red Cross officials, who generally create emergency shelters, and federal and state emergency management officials negotiate the intracacies of allowing pets into public shelters, preparedness advocates recommend planning for the family pet as part of an emergency kit.
That means having a first aid kit for your pet, food and water, kitty litter or whatever else your pet might need in with the family’s supplies. It might even be a good idea to keep an extra collar and leash and tags for your pets as well as copies of their proof of immunizations as they might not be admitted to a shelter without them.
The key to planning an emergency kit is to make it work for you and your family, Whitney said. Meals-ready-to-eat, MREs, are sometimes available at army surplus stores or self-heating meals can be pit in the kit but they can be expensive. Other alternatives include canned meats like tuna and canned fruit, but be sure to include a manual can opener.
There should be water, a minimum of a liter per day for everyone in the family and more for hygiene needs, although anti-bacterial gels are also acceptable substitutes. The kit should include a week’s worth of prescription medications for everyone in the family and comfort items, like a favorite toy or coloring books for children.
“You should have supplies for a minimm of three days, but in the event of pandemic flu it could be necessary to be self-sustaining for two weeks,” Whitney told the group.
The other thing people need to do is make a contact plan for someone outside of the area. Recent natural disasters have shown it is sometimes easier to make a long distance call than to call across town, so families should have a plan for who to contact out of the area if the family is separated during an emergency, Steve said.
In addition to preparing their own families, area women should be prepared to help out in a regional emergency. “We have just 55 people to cover both Franklin and Williamson counties,” Whitney said. That is why health departments and emergency agencies are recruiting and training community members to help out in their own neighborhoods during emergencies.
The Community Emergency Response Teams are being developed across Southern Illinois, and while Whitney would like to see many volunteers trained, she said that people should be prepared to help their neighbors regardless of training.
“Be prepared. Give emergency kits as gifts and help the people around you. That’s how we deal with an emergency,” she said.