Friday, December 25, 2009

Trained volunteers can help when emergencies arise

Picture an emergency response worker. Chances are you are thinking of someone official, like a police officer, paramedic or firefighter. But many of the people who play key roles during a disaster are people just like you who’ve stepped up and volunteered to help out. So here’s a key step for communities when planning for the worst: recruit and train good volunteers.

According to a 2008 community preparedness guide (pdf) from the Western New York Public Health Alliance Inc., volunteers should have a range of skills, including pharmacists; people who can communicate in different languages, including sign language; custodians; faith leaders; and county, school and government officials. Chances are your community can use someone with your skills as well.

Organizers should train volunteers in handling population surges, understanding how to respond to quarantine or hazardous materials situations, and calming people down. Volunteers also need to be informed of their legal rights and have emergency management training such as that offered through the Community Emergency Response Team program. Such training is often held one evening per week for seven weeks and is offered in many states, so if you want to help, check if it’s in your area.

In addition to training, volunteers need to also have the right attitude. According to the Louisiana 4-H Council volunteers need to be accepting, aware, attentive and have a positive attitude when dealing with disaster victims. If that sounds like you, then step up and make yourself known.

It’s also essential for planners to over-recruit volunteers in case some don’t show up when duty calls. Volunteers should know their town’s emergency preparedness plan and have copies of each other’s contact information.

If volunteers are properly trained and willing to help during an emergency, it can make all the difference when a crisis hits.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Sheltering in place is a snap with the right know-how

“Warning! Seek shelter!” If you heard this message right now, would you be ready?

While emergencies such as fires or hurricanes may call for you to evacuate, others require that you stay put — or “shelter in place” — to keep safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sheltering in place means to stay where you are and make the building as safe as possible to protect yourself.

Taking shelter can either be a short-term measure, such as going to a safe room for a brief time during a tornado warning, or long term, where you need to stay in your home for several days. In both instances, it’s important to follow a general set of procedures. If you are recommended by officials to shelter in place, get inside as quickly as possible and tune into any radio or television that may have emergency updates. You may be advised to close and lock all exterior doors and windows, and to turn off air conditioning systems. In the event of a toxic chemical release, make sure to also close all vents, fireplace dampers and as many interior doors as possible.

When preparing for a disaster that requires sheltering in place, it’s important to select a room that will keep you the safest. While the room you choose may change depending on the specific type of disaster, most shelter rooms should be a large room with as few windows and doors as possible. Having access to a clean water source, like a bathroom or kitchen with a sink, is also a plus.

Once you’ve picked your shelter room, keep it stocked with a flashlight, battery-powered radio (with extra batteries for both), emergency food, bottled water, a first aid kit and a telephone or charged cell phone. Setting aside some games or books that will help you while away the time is also a good idea.

Also, don’t assume that emergencies will only happen when you are at home. Check with your office, workplace or school to find out where sheltering locations are, and offer to help if they don’t have one designated yet. You’ll be helping yourself, but also your community, be more prepared when it counts.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Hard of hearing or deaf? Taking extra steps to be prepared can pay off

Disasters are difficult on everyone. But if you are hearing impaired or deaf, dealing with disasters can be overwhelming — a crisis that poses unique problems that many people may overlook.

If you are hearing impaired, it’s important to take a few extra steps to be prepared for an emergency. If you use hearing aids, it’s a good idea to store extra hearing aids and implants — and extra batteries — in your emergency kit or close at hand, according to preparedness advocates. If you use pagers, captioned telephones or other communication equipment designed for those who are hard of hearing, it’s important to keep these devices charged at all times. Also, consider installing both audio and visual fire alarms in your home.

Notifying others such as family, neighbors and emergency personnel of your needs can help ensure that they’re able to help you during emergency situations if you need them.

Good communication during a disaster can make for a smoother experience. Have paper and pens on hand so that you can convey messages to others and consider carrying with you a copy of important messages such as: "I use American Sign Language and need an ASL interpreter," or "If you make announcements, I will need to have them written or signed."

On the community level, encourage emergency response organizations like the American Red Cross to recruit volunteers with ASL interpreting skills to ensure that safety procedures are understood by all. Remind TV stations to show ASL interpreters on camera during emergencies or to broadcast all news and emergency information in open caption formats. And, if you don’t already know ASL, try to learn it and encourage others to as well.

For the more than 70 million deaf people worldwide, dealing with disaster emergencies poses its own unique challenges. While it is nearly impossible to change the course of a natural disaster, by planning, communicating and advocating ahead of time, it can make dealing with these events much easier for everyone.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Mass transit preparedness: Being ready while on the go

From subways to buses, mass transit is a great form of transportation. But with so many logistics involved, the systems can sometimes run into delays or problems that can leave you stranded, stuck or even facing an emergency.

So what can you do to prepare yourself for these unexpected situations? Prepare yourself both physically and mentally.

Whether you are a regular mass transit commuter, a tourist or someone who is taking a trip, it’s a good idea to pack a small safety kit that includes things like a small first aid kit, flashlight, moist towelettes or hand sanitizer, medication, paper, a pen or pencil, and maps of the area. In addition, water, snacks and a charged cell phone can be useful items to have while waiting out an emergency.

Mentally, it is important to be composed, focused and alert for any dangers that may arise when you are on mass transit. It’s okay to have a book, newspaper or charged iPod to pass the time. But remember to be on alert for any emergency updates or instructions that may come up. If you are listening to music, don’t put the volume on too loud. Not only is it impolite to other passengers, but you may miss hearing crucial information for keeping yourself safe.

If an emergency does arise, you’ll want to make contact with your family. Make a family emergency plan (pdf)with your loved ones to prepare for these events. If you are unable to get a hold of other family members in your area, a pre-identified out-of-town contact may be your only form of notifying your family of your safety. Make sure that everyone in your family has a cell phone or access to a phone and knows the out-of-town contact’s phone number. If you have a cell phone, put down this person as "ICE," or "in case of emergency," in your contacts list. If you are involved in an accident, it will give emergency personnel an easy way to get hold of someone you know.

Teaching your family members how to use text messaging can also be a plus during a disaster. Text messages can sometimes get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through.

While the vast majority of trips on mass transit are uneventful (and sometimes even pleasant), it helps to take extra steps to be prepared.

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