Friday, March 27, 2009

Water supplies in a disaster: Quenching your thirst when things are the worst

This past weekend, countries and people around the globe celebrated World Water Day, drawing attention to this crucial, lifesaving resource. Here in America, most of us take it for granted that we'll have clean, instant access to water anytime we turn on a tap. But in the event of an emergency, water supplies can be in short supply — no matter where you live.

During a disaster, water lines can be damaged or blocked, shutting off the flow to our taps. Even if water lines keep operating, winds and floodwaters can drop chemicals and debris into water supplies and contaminate them, making them undrinkable. Think about the flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, for example. The Environmental Protection Agency had to test and disinfect the water before it was declared safe, which took time. Until the water was drinkable, people had to find other sources of water, which is where planning comes in.

The best way to prepare yourself for a disaster is to include bottled water in your emergency stockpile. Experts recommend that Americans have at least a three-day supply of water stored at all times, with one gallon of water per person, per day. While relief agencies often help people following a disaster, it can be awhile until they reach your area — if at all — so it's best to have your own supplies.

If you run out of bottled water before it's safe to drink from the tap, you can use bleach as a disinfectant. When disinfecting clear water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mixing one-eighth of a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water and letting it sit for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, use one-quarter of a teaspoon of bleach, says CDC. But be very careful to follow the guidelines on the types and amounts of bleach that you use. People who get their water from a well should contact their local water company before using it following a disaster.

Even minor floods and hurricanes can contaminate drinking water, as can unexpected environmental disasters such as a chemical spill. So it's best to stay prepared. Take a tip from those around the world who are working to make water accessible to all by taking some time to think about your personal water supply.

Photo by Jocelyn Augustino, courtesy FEMA. A Federal Emergency Management Agency team walks through neighborhoods in Sabine Pass, Texas, that were flooded by Hurricane Ike in September.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Don’t be afraid to offer your aid with Hands-Only CPR

No one wants to be in a situation where someone's heart stops or they suddenly stop breathing. But knowing what to do if it does happen could make all the difference in the world. And luckily, you don't need a degree in medicine to help. For many situations, familiarity with CPR may be enough to get you ready to assist someone in need.

CPR, which stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, can be a lifesaving procedure when administered in time. Unfortunately, many people are worried about performing CPR in an emergency. To encourage people to help, the American Heart Association has started a campaign called Hands-Only. The campaign provides a basic CPR method for people who have not been trained.

Standard CPR consists of two parts: chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing. Hands-Only teaches people to immediately call 9-1-1 and then begin hard and fast chest compressions. You can watch a quick demo of the method on the Hands-Only Web site.

While relatively easy, the Hands-Only technique should only be used for adults who suddenly collapse — not for infants, children or anyone who is discovered unconscious. Take a few minutes to check out the Hands-On demo, or better yet, visit the American Heart Association Web site to locate a CPR class near you. You'll never have to be afraid to help out again.

Photo courtesy Microsoft Clipart Gallery

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Only you can prevent — and prepare for — wildfires

We all remember learning about Smokey Bear and fire safety in school, but how many of us have taken that information to heart? With wildfires threatening lives both across the globe and closer to home recently, now is an excellent time to talk about preparing for a wildfire.

It is important to be prepared even if your area is not prone to wildfires, because they can occur almost anywhere during dry weather. In fact, this year's dry conditions across the United States have firefighters worried.

Fortunately, there are protective steps you can take before a wildfire occurs. Keeping dried leaves away from your home and out of your gutters will reduce the risk of your home catching fire. Create a 30-foot to 100-foot safety zone around your home that is free of flammable items, such as brush, woodpiles and propane tanks. Find out how wildfires are reported in your community and sign up for any alert systems that are available.

If a wildfire is reported in your area, the first thing you should do is find out how far it is from your home. This will help you decide whether there's time to evacuate immediately, or if you should stay at home. If told to evacuate, try to leave as soon as possible. Remember that your safety is more important than protecting your home and belongings. Always keep an evacuation "go-bag" packed and ready so you can leave quickly.

During evacuation, car trouble can leave you stranded. If this happens, don't leave your vehicle. Instead, roll up the windows, close the vents, and try to cover up with blankets or other available items. In situations where the fire is close, it is sometimes best to stay at home. Never try to outrun a wildfire.

These are just a few tips that can help prepare you for a wildfire. More information is available on the U.S. government's fire safety Web site or from Ready America.

Photo caption: Fire crews work to stop a wildfire in Southern California from advancing in October 2007. (Photo courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Remember to check your emergency supplies when you set your clocks March 8

It’s time to spring forward this Sunday, March 8!

In addition to more light at the end of the day, (yea!) daylight saving time is the perfect reminder to check your preparedness kit to make sure your emergency stockpile isn’t missing any items and that the food hasn’t expired. APHA’s Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign is back to remind people to refresh their emergency supplies before a disease outbreak or disaster occurs. If you haven’t created a stockpile (PDF) yet, why wait any longer?

Be sure that you have at least a three-day supply of bottled water, nonperishable foods and essential medications set aside for each member of your family. And as always, don’t forget to check the batteries in your smoke alarms. This is also a perfect time to re-familiarize yourself with your community’s emergency preparedness plan, including evacuation routes, emergency shelters and the location of food banks.

This season, APHA kicks off its Get Ready: Set Your Clocks, Check Your Stocks campaign with the release of free materials aimed at helping Americans become better prepared. Two new fact sheets provide tips on how to keep pets safe in an emergency (PDF) and how to create and maintain a stockpile on a budget (PDF). Print a copy to keep for yourself and share one with a friend or family member.

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