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Public Health in the National News

Preparing for Emergencies by Sharon Medcalf, MEd, COPH Center for Biosecurity, Biopreparedness, and Emerging Infectious Diseases

The key to survival in any disaster is to be prepared in advance. Most of us know this, but the reality is that only about 10% of us have a good plan. The Midwest is home to tornadoes, nature’s most violent storms, so we need to be prepared to act quickly and with little or no warning. Residents of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee recently experienced the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, with a death toll at 340.  Regardless of where one lives, and what threat of natural disaster looms, preparedness begins at home.

Having an emergency supply kit and a family plan are the two most important steps to being prepared for any disaster. Supply kits contain similar items regardless of the threat. A battery-operated radio (along with extra batteries), a flashlight, some nonperishable food, and water are key elements to enable a family to remain in place and stay informed until help arrives. Some disasters involve remaining in your home, and others require evacuation, so being able to receive information from officials will be essential.

A family emergency plan begins with a conversation about how everyone will be located and informed in the event of a disaster. Designate a location to meet both inside and outside the immediate neighborhood. Cell phones and local land lines are often the first to fail, so perhaps everyone could be instructed to contact a friend or relative who lives outside the state. These are only a few examples of strategies that could reduce stress and angst after the disaster. One of the best resources for more family preparedness information is www.ready.gov

“Climate change has wide-reaching impacts on the world’s environment. Changes in regional weather patterns are intensifying the impact of natural disasters, making broad emergency preparedness an even more important component of comprehensive public health strategies,” said Dr. Shawn Gibbs, associate professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health.

Many organizations, from public agencies to private companies, are engaged today more than ever in emergency preparedness. And public health has embraced the notion that communities must be safe to be healthy. Fortunately, professionals in the field now have the opportunity for further education in this evolving discipline. To this end, the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public health will announce the launch of a graduate Certificate Program in Emergency Preparedness this fall. Dean Ayman El-Mohandes recognized the need for advanced training and education in this field, and was eager to engage his faculty in the development of this important program.

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