Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Safe: It’s Lightning Safety Awareness Week

Lightning can happen at any time of year, but did you know that summer is the peak season for deadly lightning strikes? That’s why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared June 24-30 Lightning Safety Awareness Week.

According to NOAA, dozens of people die and hundreds are injured every year when they are hit by lightning. But these incidents are largely preventable with just a few tips:

  1. When thunder roars, go indoors! If you can hear thunder from a storm, it means you are also in striking distance of lightning; you should go indoors immediately.
  2. Get somewhere safe. A safe shelter is a building with at roof and sides, such as a house, school, shopping mall, grocery store or office building. A hard-topped vehicle is also safe, but you’re not protected in motorcycles, open vehicles such as Jeeps or golf carts. 
  3. If someone around you is stuck by lightning: Call 911 immediately. Lightning victims will not electrocute you, so they are safe to touch. Be prepared to start CPR or use an automated external defibrillator if the person does not have a pulse.
Pretty simple, right? Preparedness doesn’t get much easier!

For more information about lightning safety, check out NOAA’s new YouTube video.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Safe: Learn how to get ready for a wildfire

Summer safe Logo
Did you catch the news this week about the wildfires that have burned thousands of acres in Colorado and New Mexico?

Unfortunately, with the hot, dry weather that often comes this time of year, wildfires are more common. Plus, this week scientists reported that because of climate change, an increase in wildfires is expected over the next 30 years. That’s why we thought now would be a good time to talk about getting ready for wildfires.

Wildfires can start from natural causes like lightning, but most are caused by humans, such as when people leave campfires unattended or don’t dispose of burning cigarettes safely. (Learn more about fire prevention here: However it starts, a wildfire can spread quickly, burning forests and buildings in its path. Aside from the dangers of the actual fire, wildfires are also a health threat because of their heavy smoke, which can cause headaches, breathing trouble and chest pain and can cause extra health complications. 

Image of wildfire burning on a hil with a residential neighboorhood at the foot of the hill.

Here are some quick steps you can take to prepare for wildfires:

  • Find out about your community’s risk for wildfires. Check to see if there is a local wildfire warning system and know the evacuation routes.
  • If you live in an area at risk for wildfires, make sure your property is safe: Clean your roof, gutters and property of dried leaves regularly. Move things that will burn, like gas tanks or stacks of firewood, away from your house. Have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in your home, and check them regularly.
  • Have an emergency kit, ideally in a bag or container that you can grab and take with you in case of evacuation.
  • Make a plan with your loved ones, so that if you need to evacuate quickly, you’ll know where to go. Don’t forget to pick an out-of-town emergency contact who everyone can check in with, in case local phone lines are busy.
  • If you see a wildfire, call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • If you are in a car and see a wildfire, stay in the car, roll up the windows and close the vents. Drive slowly and keep your lights on. (Check out our Driving & Disasters Fact Sheet for more info ).
  • If you are home, close all doors and windows and take care not to breathe in smoke. If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.

For more information about preparing for wildfires, check out our Get Ready Fact Sheet on Wildfires, in English and Spanish. You can also visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website for more information about what to do before, during and after a wildfire.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New tools to help you get ready for disasters – socially

Just in time for hurricane season and summer’s severe weather, we’re highlighting some new electronic tools that will help you get ready for disasters.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response recently announced two free Facebook apps that help people prepare for emergencies with their social networks. The bReddi Facebook app and Project: Lifeline are designed to help you identify “lifelines” in your community who you can count on during a disaster.

“We know that people who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don’t, and that every disaster has the potential to impact health, so having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster,” said Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in an HHS news release. “That’s why we are encouraging everyone to identify their lifelines in advance.”

Project: Lifeline allows you to select people from your social network that you can count on during an emergency. bReddi will help you identify severe weather risks in your area and create a preparedness plan. The app can even alert you via Twitter, text or Facebook message when the threat level changes! These Facebook apps may be especially useful after a disaster, when phone lines are often busy.

Screen capture from the new bReddi Facebook App showing a U.S. Map with local severe weather warnings.

What if you don’t use Facebook, or if you’re on the go? A national Wireless Emergency Alerts initiative was also announced last month. The new service will send a message to your cellphone if there is an emergency or disaster near you. The messages, which will look like text messages, are free, and you won’t have to sign up to receive them — everyone with text message service will receive them.  The text service will be location-based, so if you live in Chicago but are driving through Kansas during severe weather, you will get a tornado alert for your current location.

The new alert system is based on a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and all major cellphone providers in the U.S.

Are you excited to try these new tools? Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried one of them, or if you want to recommend another app that helps you be prepared!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Summer Safe: Tips for staying healthy in hot weather

With record-setting warm weather across the U.S. this year, we wanted to kick off our Summer Safe series with some timely information about beating the summer heat.

To get the scoop about hot weather safety, we sat down with Linda Degutis, DrPH, MSN. Degutis is the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and she had a lot of advice about heat-related illnesses.

Though many people want to have ‘fun in the sun’ during the summer months, really hot weather can pose a dangerous threat to people’s health. As Degutis explained, “extreme heat can lead people to have very high body temperatures,” which could quickly lead to brain damage, organ failure or even death.

Degutis, a past president of APHA, warned about the two heat-related illnesses people should avoid in hot weather: heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is more serious, because your body can lose its ability to cool itself down and your body temperature can get dangerously high.

These are the symptoms you should look out for (click to view larger):

The people who are most at risk for heat-related illness are the elderly, young children and people with chronic medical conditions. Also, people who spend a lot of time out-of-doors, such as construction workers and landscapers, the homeless and those who exercise in the heat are at risk for the dangerous side effects of spending too much time in hot weather.

That’s the bad news. “The good thing about all of this is that we can prevent heat-related illnesses by taking some relatively simple precautions,” Degutis explained.
These include:

  • During very hot weather, stay inside where it’s cool. If you don’t have air-conditioning in your house, go somewhere that does: A library, a grocery store, an indoor mall. Communities may also set up cooling centers where people can escape the heat, so check with your local government. 
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks like soda and juice can make you more thirsty, so stay away from those as much as possible in the heat.
  • You can still stay active and enjoy the outdoors, but consider saving your exercise or outdoor activities for the cooler parts of the day: morning and evening. Avoid being outside in the middle of the day when it’s hottest.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, because dark clothes or heavy fabric can trap heat. Also, make sure you wear a hat and sunscreen — sunburns put you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses!
  • Sign up for free weather alerts via email or text, so that you’ll know if there is an excessive heat warning for your area.
  • Don’t forget to check on friends, older family members and elderly neighbors in very hot weather.

For more information about staying safe in hot weather, you can listen to the podcast of our interview with Degutis. We also have a full transcript of the interview, and we created a handy Healthy You tipsheet about staying safe in the heat that you can print and share.

Friday, June 01, 2012

2011-2012 flu season is officially over

Welcome to our last Flu Friday post of the season!

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the 2011-2012 flu season has officially ended. The season is usually declared over when low numbers of people go to the doctor for flu-like illnesses.

In its final FluView report, CDC stated that the “late and mild flu season” has set the record for the lightest and slowest-starting flu season since it started tracking the flu in 1997.

Officials aren’t sure why the flu season was so mild this year, but they think it might have something to do with the warm winter, the fact that many of the flu viruses circulating this year were also around last year and the fact that more people in the U.S. have gotten their annual flu shot.

This doesn’t mean that we’re totally flu-free now. As CDC wrote in its FluView report, “The late start of this season and the fact that flu viruses circulate year-round in the United States means that some flu activity will likely continue to occur in the coming weeks.”

Yes, you can still get the flu in the summer! If you’re helping us track the flu with our FluNearYou tool, we’ll still send out the weekly “How Are You Feeling?” emails.

Be sure to stay healthy this summer by practicing good hand-washing. And don’t forget to check out our new Summer Safe series, where we’ll bring you tips to stay healthy so you can have fun all summer long!