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Health Risks After the Storm – What You Need to Know

After a disaster, recovery efforts can seem daunting. Recent hurricanes, tropical storms and wildfires in different parts of the U.S. have shifted the focus of the country to disaster preparedness – and for good reason. Your chances of getting hurt or injured don’t end when the winds die down and the waters recede. And while preparing for a predicted disaster is the best way to deal with issues you may face afterwards, recovery is just as critical for staying safe in the long run.

Medical Supplies

The best way to mitigate your risks after a storm is to plan ahead, and that starts with making sure you’ve got what you need on hand. Although it may not be possible to do so during all types of disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes that can strike without warning, some disasters allow you to plan in advance. Hurricane paths are predicted weeks in advance, and even if you feel the storm may miss your area, begin planning as if it will receive a direct hit.

If you take regular prescriptions, stock up now so that you don’t run out at a critical time. Call your doctor or pharmacy to see if extra refills can be obtained, especially if you need to relocate or evacuate your home. Stock supplies of necessities beyond basic nonperishables, water and batteries, including:

  • Adult and child diapers
  • Contact lens solution
  • Denture care products
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hearing aid batteries

It may be difficult for you to get to a store to restock these items after a storm, so build up your supply ahead of time. Create a first aid kit with basic supplies to treat minor injuries. Healthcare providers should stock basic supplies as well, such as bandages, wound treatment products, splints and other items that may be necessary to treat injuries after a disaster.

Important Documents

If you suffer from a chronic ailment, be sure that your healthcare provider stores your records electronically. Request printed copies of your records, store them in a Ziploc bag and take them with you whether you need to relocate or not. If possible, you can also scan the documents and store them electronically yourself in case transporting a stack of papers isn’t convenient.

Electrical Outages

After a natural disaster, especially a hurricane, power outages are likely, if not guaranteed. With the increasing reliance on electronic medical records and imaging applications, this could lead to catastrophe in the medical field. Lost power can also be a life-threatening event if you have a medical condition that requires electricity.

If you have medical equipment that needs constant electricity, consider installing a generator in your home or business. You can also relocate to an area that has generator power during the emergency, like a shelter or senior center, that will likely have generator power even if their area loses electricity.

Healthcare organizations should consider alternate sources of power so that they can return to operations as quickly as possible. All electronic records should be backed up regularly in more than one location. Remember, too, to test backup power and system backups regularly to be sure they will operate properly during a disaster.

Minimizing Suffering as a Healthcare Agency

One key focus area of any healthcare agency is to minimize the suffering of those who are affected by disasters. To avoid chaos, it’s important to manage your agency’s human resources properly to be sure that the right people are in the right location at the right times. Because your physical resources could have been damaged, like your building or supplies, you may need to identify a new location for your operation, even if it’s temporary, and a place to store any supplies necessary to alleviate suffering.

Identify triage locations as well as transportation routes for ambulances since roadways may be damaged as well. Be aware of the common health problems that occur after a disaster. Flooding can lead to diseases from contaminated water while infections rise quickly after an earthquake. As people begin to rebuild, injuries can occur from tree limb removal or construction repairs. Be prepared for all types of illnesses and injuries in the disaster area as unusual circumstances can lead to unusual medical problems.

Understanding how to prepare for a disaster is critical to survival, both for individuals and healthcare organizations. However, knowing what to do after a disaster occurs is also important in order to remain calm, seek or provide assistance, and get your community back on its feet as quickly as possible.