As Pennsylvanians enjoy the warm summer weather, planning for emergencies may be far from our minds. But, in reality, emergencies can happen year-round and the importance of advanced planning cannot be taken lightly since knowing how to react is the best defense.
I encourage all Pennsylvanians – and, specifically older Pennsylvanians and individuals with disabilities – to prepare at least two kits: one for your home and one go kit, which is a smaller portable kit that you can take with you if you have to leave or keep in your car, and to have a plan and support network in place should an emergency occur. By taking these three simple, but important, steps ahead of time you can be better prepared for any emergency that may occur.
• Be informed about what emergencies could take place in your area.
• Be prepared with a plan, an emergency kit and a go kit.
• Be involved in your community's preparedness efforts.
Special needs to think about include: dietary requirements; extra water; extra hearing aid and hearing aid batteries; wheelchair batteries; copies of medical documents; serial numbers of life-saving medical devices for your emergency kit and go kit; and if you are dependent on dialysis or other life-sustaining treatment, know the location and availability of more than one facility. Work with your doctor(s) to get a seven-day or more supply of medications and extra copies of prescriptions, and discuss with them how often you should replace this stored medication.
Additionally, it is important for older Pennsylvanians and individuals with disabilities to create a support network to help them in an emergency. This network can be comprised of friends, relatives, neighbors or other caregivers. Tell the people in your support network where you keep your emergency supplies and give at least one member of your support network a key to your home. Write down and share each aspect of your emergency plan with everyone in your support network, and make sure everyone knows how you plan to evacuate your home and where you will go in case of a disaster. Teach them how to use any lifesaving equipment or administer medicine in case of an emergency. To ensure all are comfortable with the plan and able to assist you in an emergency, give your plan a practice run with those in your support network.
If you plan to travel and have special needs, be sure to identify yourself to the hotel staff as a person who will need assistance in an emergency and state the type of assistance you will need. Regardless of your location, it's always a good idea to have an emergency health information card that communicates to rescuers what they need to know if you are found unconscious or incoherent and need to be evacuated quickly. And, so that first-responders know who to contact on your behalf during an emergency, add ICE (In Case of Emergency) to your cell phone contact list followed by your contact's name and phone number.
Finally, ask several relatives or friends who live outside your immediate area to be the central contact person for information about yourself and your family after a disaster. It is often easier to place an out-of-state long distance call from a disaster area than to call within the area. All family members should know to call the contact person to report their location and condition. Once contact is made, have the contact person relay messages to other friends and relatives outside the disaster area. This will help reduce calling into and out of the affected area once the phones are working.
ReadyPA, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's emergency preparedness campaign, can answer any questions you or your family members may have and get you on your way to being prepared. Please visit www.readypa.org or call 1-888-9-READYP(A) for new brochures and other informational materials. Remember, the more you can prepare and practice for an emergency situation, the more likely it is that you will be able to survive and successfully recover from a disaster.
By Shannon Fitzgerald, director of Office of Public Health Preparedness