Ready to Respond
News this week of a storm in the northern Gulf of Mexico reminded me that hurricane season has begun and we need to be ready for anything, because anything might happen. Cell phone video showing a man swimming down Canal Street in New Orleans conjures up memories of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it produced there and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with significant impacts that reached all the way to Jackson and beyond. This still-evolving storm probably won’t rival Katrina, but it does serve as a wake-up call about the importance of being prepared.
Fortunately, our Center for Emergency Services staff are far ahead of me. Even before the current hurricane season began, they reviewed and updated our state hurricane plan. I don’t know how many times I have been thankful that these folks are behind the scenes thinking about all the bad things that could come our way and how we would respond, not only for UMMC, but for the entire state.
As part of our statewide support role, UMMC has the responsibility of providing acute medical services during a disaster. We actively coordinate our efforts with our state partners: the Department of Health, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi National Guard and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. As compared with Katrina 14 years ago, we are on a much more proactive footing and ready to mount a response to anything and everything.
In preparation for this week’s possible hurricane, I’m told we are following our plans and have taken these actions:
- Communicated with our response teams about possible deployments,
- Performed readiness checks on all our disaster response vehicles and equipment, including our mobile disaster hospital,
- Attended interagency briefings with MSDH and MEMA,
- Participated in weather briefings (National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service Jackson and NOLA) and
- Updated our interoperable communication plans through Mississippi MED-COM for coordinating air/ground ambulances in the disaster area.
Sometimes we are called to assist beyond Mississippi. When the Carolinas were flooded after the torrential rains of Hurricane Florence last September, we deployed a three-person team to assist with evacuations of nursing homes and other emergency transportation needs there. The total deployment was 12 days. A month later, we sent staff and an ambulance to Florida for four days following Hurricane Michael.
In the spirit of getting us ready for an eventual hurricane, I asked our Mississippi Center for Emergency Services leaders to develop a checklist that I could share in this column. Here are a few individual and family disaster planning tips:
- Based on your location and community plans, make your own plans for evacuation or sheltering in place. Document your plan and share it with your family.
- Gather enough supplies to last for at least three days. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets.
- Keep enough cash on hand to purchase fuel, ice and food.
- Keep important documents in a safe place or create password-protected digital copies.
- Listen for current emergency information and instructions.
- Generators and other gasoline-powered machinery should be operated outdoors only.
- Phone calls should be saved for emergencies. Use text or social media to communicate with family and friends to decrease the burden on the phone system.
I’m hopeful that all of us get through this weekend unscathed, but it’s always good to know that we are ready to respond to any eventuality. That’s just part of who we are and what we do, in our quest to achieve A Healthier Mississippi.