Being from the south (Louisiana), I have had more than my fair share of dealing with hurricanes blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. As my wife is a RN, I have also witnessed (first hand) what healthcare workers have to do when a major storm is heading our way. As some of you may have just moved to a hurricane prone area, and are not familiar with what happens, we should at least address the issues that arrive when a major disaster comes. Since some of you that are reading this may not be nurses or medical employees, let’s also discuss some good emergency preparedness tips for the general public at large.
How Everyone Should Always Be Prepared
If you live in an area that may place you in the path of a hurricane, you should always be prepared to survive any storm. It’s critical that you always have a plan of what to do and emergency rations/ supplies.
Instead of panicking at the last minute when you are told to brace for a major storm or evacuate the area, talk with your family about what you will do if and when the time comes. You can learn about the evacuation routes from your local government. In Louisiana it’s called contraflow, and major highways and interstates will become one way paths to help you get further inland. Discuss where you will go if you are told to flee the area. If you have family that lives inland, decide if you will head to them if you need to. Talk about what you will need to pack if you evacuate, such as water, cash, clothing, food, and more. Decide if you will need to board up your house, purchase extra gasoline to run generators and your cars, and what supplies you can buy now instead of waiting until it’s too late.
You should always have emergency supplies and rations ready if you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes. Some supplies to always have on hand may include:
- Generator: The aftermath of a hurricane can be even worse than the actual storm itself. I have personally gone through a storm that has wiped out electricity for two weeks. When all of your food spoils, and you can’t get anything to replace it at the store, it’s not fun. When they temperature outside is 100 degrees, and you don’t have power to run a fan, it’s miserable. When it’s completely dark, and you have run out of candles, it’s scary! If you don’t have a generator, and a lot of gas on hand to keep it running, you will wish that you had one!
- Candles: I can’t stress how important candles are after you have lost your electricity. The comfort factor of being able to see, and not being spooked by the absolute darkness at night, is invaluable. You will always want to have a lot of candles on hand so that you never run out.
- Nonperishable Food: A lot of people choose to have a crate of MRE’s, and they can be fantastic to have in an emergency. If that’s not feasible for you, just make sure that you have plenty of canned and nonperishable food on hand to last your family for at least a week. I can tell you for a fact that going to the store to buy some food is not easy when your area has been wiped out. Unless you want to stand in line at the Red Cross waiting for help, go ahead and help yourself by stocking up on food that can survive without electricity.
- Radio & Batteries: You need a good radio that can run off of batteries. If a hurricane takes out electricity to your area, you need a way to listen in for emergency announcements, With a radio that runs off of batteries, you can keep in touch with advisories that may be critical to your survival. Just make sure that you have plenty of fresh batteries for the long haul.
- Gasoline: You should have several 5 gallon gasoline containers that are ready to be filled up before the storm hits. When a hurricane is heading to you, there will likely be a rush to the gas pumps. They will eventually run out of gas. You should be ready to head straight to your gas station as soon as you see that a storm may be heading to you. Fill those gas cans up early before everyone runs out. Then you will be able to run your generators and vehicles while everyone else is stuck.
- First Aid Supplies: Make sure that you have a first aid kit that is well stocked. When the power disappears, and you need medicine or bandages, you will be thankful that you have it. You may want to keep it stocked with bandages, gauze tape, Tylenol, aspirin, antibacterial creams, scissors, and anything else that you may use for first aid.
- Medicines: If you are taking medication prescribed by a doctor, make sure that you have a healthy supply of it before the storm comes. If your area becomes a national disaster, you may not be able to rush to the pharmacy for a refill. You should never let your critical medicines supply run low, and before a storm it is crucial that you stock up as soon as possible.
- Water Container: After the hurricane has landed you may find that your supply of easily obtainable fresh water will disappear. You should fill your bathtubs with water before the storm comes as a backup. You should also have several containers filled with water so that you have a safe source of water to drink from. The CDC recommends storing at least 5 gallons of drinkable water per person. You can also purchase iodine tablets to convert any water into drinkable water.
- Baby Supplies: If you have a baby, make sure that you have plenty of supplies for her. Stock up on baby formula, diapers, powders, food, and anything else that she may need.
- Flashlights: Have at least 3 working flashlights handy. You will also need to have plenty of fresh batteries for them. When the power is out, using a flashlight to see your way around is a lot safer than walking through the house with candles.
- Personal Supplies: After the storm you may find that your local Wal-Mart is either closed or is out of everything. It happened to us! You should stock up on personal items that you need including toothpaste, soap, deodorants, etc.
What Everyone Should Do When a Hurricane Approaches
The answer to this question can vary depending upon how close to the ocean you are, how strong the storm is, and what your job is.
If you live close to the ocean where the storm is likely to hit, and are not involved in public safety such as police, your best choice is to evacuate the area. You want to head as far inland as is practically possible. Even if the hurricane is predicted to be a minor one, it’s just not worth taking a chance as small storms can become big ones in a hurry. I have family that decided to ride out what was supposed to be a minor hurricane, and they ended up climbing a tree and holding on for their lives. It’s not worth it. The National Weather Service and your local authorities will issue evacuation advisories for your area. You want to listen to them and take them very seriously. If you are told to evacuate, get out of there by any means possible. You also want to leave as soon as you can to avoid major traffic jams. You should bring a bag with essential clothing for at least a week, along with bottled water and as much food as you can carry. They key point is that if you live in an area that is being advised to evacuate, get what you need to make it for a week and go!
If you work in public safety, you may be required to remain in the area. If you have family, make sure that you assist them with following the evacuation order. Help them to pack a bag for at least a week, be certain that they have enough cash on hand to be able to purchase what they need, and keep in touch with them so that you know where they are going to shelter.
If you live inland (away from the coast), you may decide upon evacuating or not by listening to the advisories. If you are told to leave, then leave. If you are not advised to evacuate, or if the evacuation is not mandatory, then it’s up to you. In my opinion, even if you do not live in a zone that is under mandatory evacuation orders, it’s probably a good idea to flee further inland if you have any fear whatsoever. If you leave well before the storm you may be grateful that you didn’t wait until it becomes almost impossible.
What Healthcare Workers Should Do
If you are a nurse, doctor, pharmacist, or any healthcare worker, you should of course follow the general precautions that we have laid out, Have your hurricane plan ready, stock up on all of the supplies that you will need, and follow safety advisories issued by your government, The problem for nurses and other emergency personnel is that you are usually needed to remain in the area for the safety of your patients and the public. If all of the healthcare employees head to Iowa when a hurricane strikes, the patients will be left to defend themselves/die.
Most healthcare facilities in hurricane prone areas have plans in place. Hopefully, you have been instructed on what will be expected of you in a national emergency. It is very common for critical workers to be told that they may have to live at the facility for an extended period of time. That could be anywhere from a few days to a week or more.
If that is the case for your facility, your first priority should be to make sure that your family is prepared, and they safely evacuate the area if told to do so. Your next priority should be to make sure that you are ready to actually live in the hospital or medical facility for an extended period of time.
You will need to pack a suitcase to bring to your work. You should have all of the personal items that you will need to last a week or so. Some things to pack includes clothing, toothpaste, deodorant, any medicines that you need, snacks, books, magazines, a battery powered radio, and anything else that will make your life more comfortable. Remember that you may actually be stuck in a building 24 hours a day, with no way to leave it. You will also want to keep in contact with your family, so bring your cell phone and charger, and make sure that your family has at least one as well.
Even if you are not required to live at the facility after or during the hurricane, you may be called on to assist the injured after the event. After hurricane Katrina, my wife and I volunteered to help the injured that were transported from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. A large basketball arena (the Pete Maravich Assembly Center) was transformed into a medical triage. Patients were brought to us from New Orleans with some horrific injuries. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and all sorts of healthcare workers were on site rendering aid. Even though I’m just married to a RN, I was able to hand out snacks and water to the patients, as well as just talking to them and cheering them up. It was very emotional, and I know that my wife and other medical volunteers saved many lives during those days.
If you have any questions, or can think of something that should be added, a comment from you is greatly appreciated. I have done my best to explain what healthcare workers should expect during a hurricane, but of course you could write a whole book on the subject. If something that is critical should be added, or if you just want to relay a personal story, we welcome your input!
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