Friday, May 24, 2013

Tips for staying safe this tornado season

As this week’s devastation in Oklahoma shows, tornadoes are among the most violent storms. The tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20 left many residents injured and without homes and cost numerous lives.
Unfortunately, tornadoes can strike with little or no warning, destroying entire neighborhoods in just a few minutes. But there are some things you can do to improve your safety.
  • Know the signs. Tornadoes often happen during thunderstorms. You should look out for dark, greenish skies; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud; a visible, rotating funnel; or a loud roar. Get to know your local warning system and keep a battery run radio ready to go. If there’s a tornado watch, listen for weather updates and be prepared to shelter. If there’s a tornado warning, it means a tornado has been sighted and you should act now to find shelter.
  • Prepare your home. Pick a safe room in your house that is most secure for your family and pets. Ideally, it should be underground or in the basement. If that’s not an option, then you should pick somewhere with no windows. Put together an emergency stockpile kit and store it somewhere easy to access in an emergency. And be sure to practice your drill.
  • Know where to go. If you're in a car, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If there is flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park. As a last resort, you can stay in your car with your seat belt on, lowering your head down below the windows and covering it with your hands and a blanket, if available. Another last resort option is to get out of your car, find a place that is noticeably lower than the level of the road and lie in it, covering your head with your hands. Your choice should be decided based on circumstances.
Check out our Get Ready tornado fact sheet for more information and get tips for preparing a safe room from

Thursday, May 16, 2013

‘Hey, where is everyone?’ Communicating with your family during disasters

Family making an emergency plan / FEMA
Have you ever planned an event with your friends or family? You decide where to meet and how to reach one another if someone is late or gets lost. You also pick someone to be in charge of transportation. Having plans in place ahead of time helps create a successful gathering.

Getting your family ready for an emergency is kind of like organizing a family activity. There are many similar things to think about: Do you have a plan if something goes wrong? Do you have supplies? Do you know where to meet or how to contact one another?

Chances are not all family members will be together when a disaster strikes, so it’s important to plan ahead. Talk to your family about what to do in advance of a disaster. This will help reduce fear and anxiety when things are tough.

Here are a few key tips for communicating with your family before and during disasters:
  1. Meet with your family about why you need to prepare for disasters.
  2. Talk about the types of disasters that are most likely to occur in your area.
  3. Pick three places to meet based on each situation.
  4. Develop a communications plan in case family members are separated from one another. Complete a contact card for each family member and place it in their wallet, purse, book bag or backpack.
  5. Communicate with text messages during a disaster, as cell phone service may be out. Text messages often go through when a phone call might not.
  6. Program your cell phone with your “ICE” contact, short for “in case of emergency.” Emergency workers will check for ICE contacts if something bad happens.  If you have put a lock on your phone, you might want to think about putting a sticker with your ICE contact on the back of your phone.

Everybody’s needs are different, but we can each take important steps to prepare our families for disasters. And communication is key.

For more information on preparing families for disasters, check out  American Red Cross’s Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Develop a Family Disaster Plan and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Family Emergency Plan Template.

APHA’s Get Ready campaign also offers a fact sheet for parents in English and Spanish to help your family make a plan.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Help stamp out hunger in your community on May 11

When your postal carrier drops by this Saturday, she or he will be ready to pick up more than just mail. Saturday, May 11, is the national Stamp Out Hunger food drive, during which postal carriers pick up food donations that are set out next to U.S. mailboxes.
Now in its 21st year, the Stamp Out Hunger food drive collected 70.5 million pounds of food in 2012. The event is organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers, with support from the U.S. Postal Service, Feeding America and other sponsors.

To take part, just leave a sturdy bag containing non-perishable, non-expired foods, such as canned vegetables, pasta, rice or cereal, next to your mailbox before your mail comes on Saturday. Carriers will bring the food to local food banks, pantries or shelters. If you’re not sure whether your postal carrier will be taking part in the food drive Saturday, contact your local post office.

Studies show that your donation will matter: As of 2009, more than 50 million Americans live in “food-insecure” homes, meaning that they don’t have enough food for themselves and their families. But making a donation to Stamp Out Hunger can do more than fill empty stomachs in your community. Food banks play an important role in community preparedness, because they are often where people turn to for assistance after a disaster or emergency.

If you can’t take part in Saturday’s food drive, you can hold your own event at another time of the year. APHA’s Get Ready campaign has a free how-to toolkit for making your community food drive a success.

For more information on the food drive, visit the Stamp Out Hunger event website or follow the food drive on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mental health and emergencies: Being prepared and coping afterward

Public health disasters don’t just affect the environment — they impact mental and emotional health, too. In observance of National Mental Health Awareness Month, the Get Ready Report podcast team spoke with Robert Motta, director of the Child and Family Trauma Institute at Hofstra University about mental health preparedness.

Motta and his students were involved in mental health response following Hurricane Sandy, which damaged communities in the Northeast U.S. in October, killed more than 100 people and left thousands of people homeless. Such emergencies can “have a dramatic impact on mental and emotional health,” Motta says.

After traumatic events, people may experience feelings of anger, guilt, grief and helplessness as well as dramatic mood swings. Such feelings can continue long after the disaster is over, developing into post traumatic stress disorder that can last for months or years.

And it’s not just adults that are affected. To help children cope with emergencies, Motta says parents should stay calm and optimistic and provide assurance that unpredictable things can happen.
“Parents can prepare themselves by realizing that children can be more influenced by their reactions than the actual event,” Motta told the Get Ready campaign.

Knowing you are prepared before an emergency happens can lessen stress during an emergency, says Motta. Instead of struggling to find out where to get help during an emergency, communities and residents can be ready ahead of time by organizing support groups and determining where emergency services such as shelters, food banks and call centers are available.

For more tips on mental health preparedness, listen to the podcast with Motta and read the transcript. For more information, download the Get Ready campaign’s mental health and disaster fact sheet.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Announcing the winners of our 2013 Get Ready Scholarship

Six students at the high school, undergraduate and graduate level have been chosen to receive scholarships in APHA’s fifth annual Get Ready Scholarship competition.

The Get Ready Scholarship is designed to encourage high school and college students to focus on the importance of emergency preparedness. Students were asked to submit an essay on various topics, including flu prevention awareness, state-level emergency preparedness and improving flu vaccination rates among health workers.

Out of hundreds of essays, the following six were chosen as winners:

High school level:
  • Colin Maloney: Saint Ignatius High School, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Brittany Yopp: Isaac Bear Early College High School, Wilmington, N.C.
Undergraduate college level:
  • Ashlee Benge: Goucher College, Cedar Park, Texas
  • Makedah Johnson: University of Maryland, Silver Spring, Md.
Graduate college level:
  • Fabienne Lorenz: California State University-Northridge, Reseda, Calif.
  • Anjani Parikh: Virginia Commonwealth University, Glen Allen, Va.
“Through the scholarship program, we are thrilled to help educate these dedicated students about the importance of emergency preparedness and provide financial assistance that will allow them to further their education,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “This year’s winners are among the best and brightest students in the country and will become exemplary public health leaders in their own communities one day. We join them in celebrating their hard work.”

Each student will receive a $500 scholarship and a one-year APHA student membership. Read excerpts from the winning essays on the Get Ready website.

Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to every student who submitted an essay!