Emergency Preparedness – We’re Not in Kansas Anymore!


Emergency Preparedness – We’re Not in Kansas Anymore!

September 09, 2018

By Karen Wilkinson, RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart® Learning Contributor

Tin Woodsman:  “Help!  Help!”

Scarecrow:  “It’s no use screaming at a time like this.  Nobody will hear you.  Help!  Help!”[1]


For Dorothy, it was a tornado that swept her away to the strange land of Oz, a place far away from the home she loved.  For us, disaster looms in many forms:   floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires….and the list goes on.   As healthcare professionals and private citizens, we are told to get ready for the possibility of facing a real-life disaster at any moment.  It’s easy to think that those things happen “somewhere over the rainbow”, but the reality is, they can happen very close to home.


The Wizard of Oz said, “You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom and chuckled at catastrophe”[2].  We know who the Wizard turned out to be, and, when faced with a real disaster, most of us aren’t laughing.   Eleven years ago, I had just moved to California and didn’t have much of a plan when a wildfire made it to the edge of our neighborhood.   To whom do you yell “help” at such a time?  Police are notifying neighborhoods of evacuation orders, directing the outflow of traffic, and cordoning off dangerous areas.   They are working with other emergency responders to help evacuate those who can’t help themselves, such as shut-ins, and those with medical disabilities living in residential neighborhoods and healthcare/community care facilities.  Others are taking care of the business of the disaster—in this case, fighting the fire.  Eleven years ago, all turned out well.  But, experience is a good teacher and having a practical emergency plan became much more important.   Less than a year ago, I got to put that plan in action when faced with another wildfire rapidly moving in the direction of my neighborhood.  What was my warning?  I looked out the window and saw a large plume of black smoke.   It was time for action, not indecision.  It wasn’t easy, but this time I knew what to do.  And, I knew how to help others.


Some disasters come with a good deal of warning and preparation time, and others come with no warning.    Have you thought about the disasters that are more likely to occur in the area where you live and work?  Wildfires may not be much of a risk in your area, but hurricanes and floods, or a Nor’easter that brings disabling amounts of snow, or an earthquake that occurs without warning may be a risk for you.


An old adage applies here:  The best defense is a good offense.  And I will add that the best offense is a prepared, workable emergency plan—both for your own home and for your workplace.   A solid plan, that is reviewed and practiced on a regular basis, will provide you with the ability to respond quickly and effectively, saving property and lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that disasters are particularly hard on older adults, and multiple factors should be considered when planning.   Older adults may require extra assistance to leave an unsafe area, because of physical limitations or disabilities.  Cognitive conditions, such as dementia, may interfere with comprehending the situation and with the ability to promptly evacuate.  Daily medication needs and the use of specialized equipment should also be considered.[3]   If you are responsible for older or disabled adults in the home or in a facility, planning needs to be comprehensive and completed in conjunction with local authorities.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 70 residents of long-term care facilities died in their facilities.[4]   Maybe those deaths could have been prevented with a better plan.


National Preparedness Month is recognized every September.  Over fifteen years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the Ready campaign.    Through this campaign, DHS hopes that Americans will be prepared for emergency situations by staying informed about the different types of emergencies that can occur, having an emergency plan, building an emergency supply kit, and getting involved in community preparation and response.[5]


For more information about how to put together your emergency preparedness plan, visit https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan [6].


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[1],2 L. Frank Baum.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Retrieved September 07, 2018 from http://www.great-quotes.com/quotes/movie/The+Wizard+Of+Oz

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015).  Older Adult Health & Medical Concerns.  Retrieved September 11, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/emergency/concerns.htm

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  CDC’s Disaster Planning Goal:  Protect Vulnerable Older Adults.  Retrieved September 22, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/disaster_planning_goal.pdf

[5] Department of Homeland Security.  About the Ready Campaign.  Retrieved September 07, 2018 from https://www.ready.gov/about-us

[6] Department of Homeland Security.  Make a Plan.  Retrieved September 07, 2018 from https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan

March 4, 2019

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