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Six tips for staying safe in natural disasters

Published on Wednesday, June 1, 2022

By: Karen Bascom

Tornado. Hurricane. Flood. Extreme heat. Summer weather in Mississippi can threaten your home and your life.

You cannot stop the wind, rain or temperatures, and you cannot prevent the electricity and water from going out. However, you can make it easier to meet your health needs if disaster strikes.

With a busier-than-usual 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season predicted, the University of Mississippi Medical Center wants to help you prepare.

Portrait of Jason Smith

Jason Smith, manager for emergency services at UMMC, echoes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice: “get a kit, make a plan, be prepared.”

Here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe and healthy:

Make an evacuation plan

Portrait of Stephen Houck

Stephen Houck, clinical director of the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services, says to “pay attention to state and federal authorities” for evacuation orders and projected areas of impact for a severe weather event.

If it looks like your home is in the path of a serious storm, be prepared to leave and go somewhere else, “whether that’s staying with a family member who lives further inland or looking for a shelter,” Smith said.

Evacuation plans are especially important for people with disabilities or other care needs, Smith said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has resources for people with disabilities to guide their disaster planning.

For people with significant medical conditions, Mississippi’s State Medical Needs Shelter in Wiggins can provide professional care when open. Operated by MDSH, this facility is a “last resort” shelter for people whose health needs may not be met in a general population shelter, Smith said.

However, in some cases, it can be a “tall order for someone who’s bed-bound to evacuate,” Houck said. He encourages families to have a plan to “leave early if you know it is going to be complicated.”

Make a shelter in place plan

While leaving the path of a severe storm is the safest option, it might not be feasible to leave. A fixed income or lack of transportation creates significant barriers to evacuation.

If you cannot leave your home, “you need to communicate your plan to shelter in place with someone outside of the affected area,” Smith said. That includes checking in with a contact person regularly to let them know you’re safe during and after the event.

“Someone needs to know how you’re doing,” Smith said. For instance, “If I expect to hear from my uncle and it’s been a couple days, I can call the sheriff’s office or another agency for a welfare check.”

If you or someone you love can’t evacuate because of hospitalization, know that the personnel have a plan as well.

“Every hospital should have an EOP [emergency operations plan] in place,” Houck said. Long-term care facilities should also have plans in case of weather-related disasters. “You can ask about the facility’s back-up plan, and your loved one should be taken care of.”

Stock up on water and non-perishable food

The Federal Emergency Management Association recommends keeping three days’ worth of non-perishable food per person in case of a disaster. Good choices include foods like peanut butter, canned meats and vegetables, dry cereal, protein bars, and dried fruit.

“You may not be able to cook,” Smith said. “A lot of comforts are likely not to be available.”

For water, FEMA suggests storing one gallon per person per day. When utilities restore water and power, you could still be under a boil water notice, so “having a supply of clean, drinkable water” that doesn’t require additional treatment is necessary, Smith said.

Build a first aid kit

Always keep a first aid kit in your home. Some essentials include:

  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Sterile gauze
  • Gloves
  • Thermometer
  • Aspirin or other pain relief medicine
  • Cold compress

People who take prescription medications should try to keep extra doses at home. Houck says extra batteries and non-electric chargers for hearing aids, medical supplies or non-medical devices like flashlights are useful as well.

“If you take insulin or another medication that requires refrigeration, have an ice chest or a generator ready,” Houck said.

Keep lists

For each member of your household, write down their health conditions, medications, and contact information for relatives.

“It’s a good idea to have a quick reference sheet prepared in the event someone finds you and you’re in a mentally altered state or incapacitated,” Smith said.

After the storm

Smith says the majority of storm-related injuries don’t come from the wind and rain, but the aftermath and clean-up. Downed power lines, high water and debris can all cause serious injury or death.

In an emergency, “some people will depend on first responders to rescue them,” said Houck, a former firefighter. Unfortunately, the severity of a storm and its aftermath might mean hours or days before responders reach you.

“Your primary source of rescue for you and your family is yourself,” Houck said.

Smith says working out a plan with your community members can also help your emergency preparation and response.

“Pool resources with your neighbors,” he said.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.