Preparing for emergencies

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The news reports we’re all seeing are full of information about “avian” or “bird flu” now spreading in bird populations in Asia and Europe. As Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said recently, the H5N1 virus is causing a pandemic for birds. The fear, of course, is that what is now a bird pandemic will become a human pandemic.

Know this: No one knows whether this particular virus is “the one” that will trigger the world’s next pandemic. What we do know, however, is that the world is overdue for a pandemic; we haven’t seen one since the 1968 Hong Kong flu. And what we need to do now is prepare for any possible pandemic or other emergency.

So, what do you need to do as a business leader, owner or manager? Probably the most important thing is to encourage your employees and colleagues to prepare as individuals and families for any emergency. Make emergency preparedness a part of your corporate culture and values.

That starts with elements common to many emergencies, such as an emergency supply kit. But a flu pandemic would likely involve a unique element: individuals and families staying at home for up to several weeks to avoid contact with people who have contracted the illness. This self-isolation, or “sheltering in place,” might cause large public events to be postponed, schools to be closed temporarily and workers to stay home from work.

This means that you, your employees and their families need food, water, medicine and other supplies for up to several weeks. I suggest stocking your kitchen pantry more than you would otherwise, and rotate items regularly.

We cannot expect any one government agency alone to take care of us because the task simply would be enormous. We all need to work together – government, industry and business, nonprofits, neighborhood groups – to reduce the impact of a pandemic and speed our recovery.

The good news is that the steps you need to take to prepare for a possible flu pandemic also will serve you well in other emergency situations. Here are the key steps we highlighted at the health department’s annual meeting.

  • Stay informed: Gathering facts and recommendations from emergency management officials and the news media during an emergency are critical steps to ensuring the safety of our community. Visit the health department’s Web site regularly for updates: www.elpasocountyhealth.org. Visit the Center for Disease Control at www.CDC.gov.
  • Make emergency kits for home and car and stock up on essential foods: Emergency kits should contain essential foods, water, medicine and supplies for at least several days and be housed in containers that are easy to carry in case of a quick evacuation.
  • Make a plan: Designate a family meeting place in case individuals become separated, create a family communication plan and gather family medical information in one place. Figure out who might have to work outside the home in an emergency and plan with extended family or friends to care for children or others in need.
  • Get to know your neighbors: Share basic information with neighbors, such as phone numbers and e-mails, and plan how to work together during an emergency. Assess what special skills (medical and technical) and needs neighbors might have. Join or start a neighborhood watch or association.

For detailed planning checklists, visit www.pandemicflu.gov