Make a Plan for Emergencies

In recent weeks, we have seen the horrific and devastating effects wrought by wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes throughout the world. Many thousands of lives have been lost, homes destroyed, and livelihoods totally disrupted in these catastrophes. As Alabamians well know, as exemplified by our frequent deadly tornadoes, little or no warning precedes most disasters. Not all disasters are weather related; many are caused by people’s actions.

Despite the uncertainties of when and where disasters occur, there are ways each of us can act by planning in advance. In addition to preparing your family and home, it is important to incorporate personal preparedness in your business or place of employment through staff development.

The department’s Center for Emergency Preparedness has compiled an excellent family readiness guide which may be viewed on this website at Are You Ready?

Advice from this guide includes the following:

1. Stay informed. Knowing about the hazards that may strike your community and the risks you may have to take could be lifesaving. Learn about emergency and weather alert systems.

2. Learn about basic injury and disease prevention. Information is available on this website, on the Internet, from your healthcare provider, and in a variety of other places.

3. Look for the most current information on emergency preparedness. Public Health provides print materials and information on this website to help people prepare for emergencies.

4. Create a family preparedness plan and emergency supply kit. Make sure everyone knows or carries emergency contact names and numbers to help find each other if separated. Also, include items that family members with special needs may require.

5. Become familiar with the emergency plans of your community, school, and workplace. Make copies of the plans and keep them in a safe place to review and refer to if emergencies occur.

Collect and store these essential items to get ready for emergencies:

  • Water – One gallon per person; per day.
  • Food – Have a 2-week supply of non-perishable food per person. Try to pack foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking. Consider diets and special needs for infants, toddlers, and the elderly.
  • Can Opener – Make sure it is a manual can opener in case there is no electrical power.
  • Medications – Collect 1 month’s worth of all prescription medicines. Rotate stockpiled medicine to ensure shelf life.
  • First Aid – Include basics, such as antiseptic, gloves, a variety of bandage sizes, thermometer, and protective masks.
  • Flashlight – It is best to get a lantern style light for hands-free use. Also, remember to have extra batteries available.
  • Radio – Have a battery-powered radio for listening to news and weather. A crank-operated or solar-powered radio would be best.
  • Clothes – Collect extra clothing, socks, and shoes for each family member.
  • Personal Care Items – Collect basic personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, feminine products, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer.
  • Important Documents – Collect copies of driver’s licenses, photo ID, Social Security cards, birth certificates, deeds, titles, mortgage papers, insurance policies, bank account numbers, and credit cards.
  • Pet Care – Have a plan, food, water, and other supplies available for your pets.

In the event of a disaster, both mass care and medical needs shelters may be stood up. The Alabama Department of Public Health is the lead agency responsible for staffing medical needs shelter operations in the state, in partnership with other state and federal agencies, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. A medical needs shelter is defined as “a shelter of last resort for persons with conditions requiring minimal nursing oversight who cannot be accommodated in a mass care shelter.”

At medical needs shelters, operations team members from the health department have assigned roles for different disciplines--nurses, clerks, social workers, and environmentalists—who will be working to maintain the pre-disaster state of health for evacuees. Individuals who are eligible for medical needs shelters might include a person who is dependent on electricity for their durable medical equipment, a person with mobility issues, and a person with a contagious health condition who needs to be isolated from others at mass care shelters.

In addition to information on this website, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has prepared a helpful, in-depth, 30-page guide, “Are You Ready? – A Guide to Citizen Preparedness,” which is available in several languages.

When you are faced with a disaster, keep informed, stay safe, and follow your plan, while remembering to care for the needs of children, the elderly, and people with disabilities or access and functional needs. Disasters will happen, but preparation mitigates their impact and saves lives.

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer