Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolve to be Ready in 2012

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared over 100 federal disasters in 2011 alone. This year we have seen the impact of tropical storms Maria and Lee, Hurricane Irene, wildfires in Texas, flooding, tornadoes, and even an earthquake that hit the nation’s capital. Even the media has put the threat of pandemics in the headlines with Warner Bros. Picture’s Contagion.

FEMA has outlined ways to keep your family, home, and workplace prepared for any type of disaster. Emergency preparedness is a new year’s resolution that will be easy to maintain with three easy steps:

             Make a family emergency plan
The holidays are the perfect time to discuss a family emergency plan. Having an outline of what to do during a chaotic time such as an emergency is the best tool you can be equipped with. You may want to include emergency contact information and places to go during a time of emergency. Don’t know where to start? Visit the Ad council to create your own family plan.  

Emergency supply kits are useful for both the home and the workplace. Making sure all the necessary items are in place PRIOR to a time of disaster puts you in the best position to combat the emergency. APHA’s Get Ready campaign offers a stockpile checklist in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF).

Location is a factor that determines the risk for disaster and emergency. It is important to know what disasters and emergencies threaten your area and community specifically. Not only is the environment a threat, but disease and sickness are too. Keeping up with vaccines is another preparedness strategy for the unknown. You can also call the closest chapter of the American Red Cross for emergency information that applies to your community. Knowledge is power: know what you’re up against and prepare yourself and your family for the best chance of survival during an emergency.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Give the gift of blood and improve preparedness

Give a gift this holiday season that’s free, easy and saves lives: Donate blood.

In 2012, 4.5 million Americans will need blood, and for many recipients, it’s a matter of life and death. Blood shortages can make the need worse. Such shortages could be avoided if just 1 percent more Americans donated. One donation can help save the lives of up to three people.

After disasters such as hurricanes or other wide scale emergencies, health and emergency groups often put out calls for blood donors because of the sudden increase in need. Giving blood before a disaster strikes helps your community be more prepared.

Here are some tips for how you can help:

• Make an appointment with an organization such as the American Red Cross or find a blood center. They are often found at schools, companies, places of worship or community organizations.

• Before you arrive, drink extra water. You need to have fluid in your body or you might not feel well after giving blood. A couple of glasses of water will do the trick. Bring a list of medications you’re taking and a form of personal identification.

• Bring a friend. Going with someone will make the process more enjoyable, and if they donate, that’s potentially more lives saved.

• Make giving blood a new holiday tradition. With friends and family gathered together over the holidays, it’s an ideal time to encourage others to give blood.

Overall, just remember to relax. Donating blood is safe and healthy. Donating blood is one of the most important things you can do to help ensure the health and safety of your community. And it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Don’t let your holiday celebrations turn to disaster: Preventing fires

For most people, the holidays are a time of family, celebrations and fun. But nothing puts an end to holiday merriment quicker than a house fire.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, almost 129,000 fires occur in December that require the fire department to come, with 72 percent of structure fires occurring in residential buildings. Oftentimes, holiday decorations play a role, as does home heating and cooking fires from holiday meals. And because some seasonal observances, like the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah or Kwanzaa kinara, involve candles, open flames add to risks.

Surprisingly, cooking fires top the list for holiday-related fires, causing 41 percent of them, says the U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking fires increase around Thanksgiving and peak in December. On any day in December, the percent of cooking fires is at about 3 percent. But such fires increase to 4.7 percent on Christmas Eve and 5.3 percent on Christmas Day.

New Year’s Eve and Day are also a risky time for fires. About 6,400 fires occur on an average New Year’s holiday, with 28 percent caused by fireworks. Cooking, heating and open flames are other common causes — and not a great way to start the new year.

Another holiday fire risk is a common decoration: The Christmas tree. As the saying goes, “A wet tree is a safe tree.” It may not be the most festive of holiday clichés, but it’s an important one.

A dry Christmas tree will fully ignite in a matter of seconds, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology,  and within 40 seconds, “flashover” will occur. Flashover is when an entire room becomes covered in flames, depleting oxygen and engulfing a room in deadly, toxic smoke.

Here are some quick tips for preventing holiday fires:

• When cooking, never leave food or equipment unattended. Keep combustible items like cookbooks, oven mitts or wooden spoons away from heat sources.

• Keep children away from holiday candles, fires and fireworks. The proportion of deaths caused by children playing with fire jumps to 26 percent in December.

• Never use candles to decorate a Christmas tree. Keep candles inside a one-foot circle away from anything combustible.

• Keep your live tree watered. Don’t place it close to a fireplace or lamps. Make sure your wiring is safe, and turn off tree decorations at night or when you’re not home.

• Keep space heaters and electrical wires away from combustible items.

• Double-check that all of your fire alarms are working and have batteries, and keep a fire extinguisher at home.

For more holiday fire safety tips, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Congratulations to the winners of APHA's 2011 Get Ready Video Contest!

APHA's Get Ready campaign announced the winners of its 2011 video contest in December. Three winners were named in the contest, which challenged students to raise awareness of emergency preparedness.

The video contest was open to U.S. students in sixth through 12th grades. Students were asked to produce a short original video that highlights an aspect of preparedness, such as creating an emergency kit or having an emergency plan. Entries were judged on creativity, originality, quality, overall appeal and success in conveying the importance of preparing for an emergency. The three winners took home cash prizes for their entries, with the top video earning $500.

“The goal of this year’s contest was to equip our next generation of public health advocates with the tools and knowledge they need to prepare their community for disaster,” said Alan Baker, MA, APHA’s interim executive director.

The winners were:

• First place: Lena Rutherford, a ninth-grader from Golden, Colo. Rutherford’s video highlighted three steps in being prepared: having an emergency supply kit, having an emergency plan and knowing the risks in your community.

• Second place: Bethany Wallach, an eighth-grader from Fort Mill, S.C. Wallach’s video highlighted common natural disasters to be ready for, such as hurricanes, tornados and power outages

• Third place: McKay Olson, a 10th-grader from Burlington, Wy. Olson’s video focused on being ready for natural disasters such as flooding and blizzards by having first aid kits and accessible drinking water.

Congratulations to our winners and to all of the students who entered the contest! Watch the videos now via the Get Ready website.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Get Ready Mailbag: Can I get sick from germs on my cellphone?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to

Q: I know that dirty keyboards and doorknobs can pass along germs, but what about things like cellphones and iPods? Should I clean them, too? How often?

A: Dirty keyboards and doorknobs are just two of the sneaky culprits that can pass germs on to others. When a sick person coughs or sneezes and then touches objects, they can transmit their germs when others touch those same surfaces. Viruses such as flu germs can live on a surface for two to eight hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bacteria can present problems, too. While many are beneficial — think human digestion and soil decomposition — some can cause disease. They live most everywhere, including on your skin and in your body. In fact, more than 300 types of bacteria typically exist in a human mouth — a healthy one!

We are constantly coming into contact with germs, and usually they do not make us sick. But sometimes, if we’ve not been vaccinated against or exposed to a virus, or are not used to a certain type of bacteria — or if its population has grown too large — our immune systems are unable to fight off infection, and we end up feeling lousy.

Now think about all the places your cellphone, portable MP3 player or other mobile device goes: from the bottom of your gym bag and the cup holder in the car to a park bench and a table in a fast food restaurant. Ever text or take a call in the bathroom? That’s a lot of icky places. Mixed with the sweat and oil from your skin, and maybe a little spit, that thing is going to be dirty! And on top of that, things we carry on our person, like cellphones and iPods, tend to stay warm from our body heat. Bacteria love warmth and moisture. Given those conditions, they could grow and multiply more readily.

So to answer your question, yes! Cellphones and portable MP3 players can get germy. Keep yours clean and safe by wiping it down with rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer or an antibacterial wipe every few days. And think twice about where you use it, where you place it and who you share it with.