Staying Safe and Healthy During a Weather Event: A Guide to Emergency Preparedness
By Maggie Rogers, Public Health Planner at Springfield-Greene County Health
Many people are still cleaning up after Sunday night’s surprise storm. Some homes and businesses are still without power, and we are all working through some hot and humid days. Whenever you are ready, it is important that we all look back and figure out what we can do differently to be better prepared as individuals and a community.
I want to share some essential tips on creating emergency plans to navigate through emergencies like the heat advisories and power outages we experienced this week as well as other potential weather events our community could face. Extreme weather events like these can be challenging, but with careful preparation, we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our furry friends. Let’s dive into important aspects of emergency preparedness to ensure everyone’s health, safety, and comfort.
Create an emergency kit:
One of the best ways to be prepared for an emergency is to gather supplies you might need during and after and emergency and create a kit. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency, such as:
- Water for several days (about one gallon per person per day) for drinking and sanitation.
- A several-day supply of non-perishable food. And don’t forget a can opener!
- A several-day supply of non-perishable pet food.
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio that can turn into a NOAA Weather Radio station.
- Flashlights and extra batteries.
- First aid kit that also includes commonly used over the counter medication, your prescription medications, and your durable medical equipment (e.g. blood test strips for diabetics, oxygen, etc.).
- Whistles to signal for help.
- Dust masks to help filter contaminated air.
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal openings, windows, doors, etc.
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties (for personal sanitation).
- Tools like a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
- Local maps.
- Cell phone with chargers and backup batteries.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also has a list of optional supplies you may want to consider adding to your kit in case of an emergency. You should set a reminder to maintain your emergency kit at least yearly! Swap out the food and water, make sure the medicine has not expired, and ensure that the batteries are still operating.
During power outages, it’s essential to take extra precautions to preserve food and prevent foodborne illnesses. Include the following steps in your plan for the next power outage:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed: An unopened fridge can maintain its temperature for about four hours, while a full closed freezer can stay cold for up to two days. You can use ice, dry ice, ice packs, and coolers to keep perishable items cold in case the power outage lasts longer.
- Store perishables separately: When you’re transferring food from your refrigerator or freezer, pay attention to how you’re storing it. Keep raw meats and seafood away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- Avoid consuming potentially spoiled food: Despite your best efforts, some or all the cold food you have may spoil. When in doubt, throw it out. Don’t take chances with food that has been at unsafe temperatures for too long. Any perishable food that has been above 45ºF for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture must be discarded.
- Buy a thermometer: How can you be sure next time that your food is kept safe? Buy a thermometer and keep it in your refrigerator!
High temperatures can pose severe health risks, particularly for the elderly, young children, and people with pre-existing health conditions. Here are some tips to protect your health during heat advisories:
- Stay hydrated: Keep cases or jugs of fresh water for emergency. When it gets hot, drink plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, as they can lead to dehydration.
- Have a plan for peak hours: If possible, remain indoors between 10 AM and 4 PM when temperatures are at their highest. If you have power, use your air conditioning and fans to keep your home cool. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning or there is a power outage, seek out cooling centers in your community or use fans to stay cool. Make sure you know what options are available near you. A continuously updated map of cooling centers available can be found on the Health Department’s website.
- Know the signs of heat-related illnesses: Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, such as heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone else experiences these symptoms.
- Prepare now to address health needs in a disaster: Some people have electronic devices that are necessary for their health and wellbeing or medication that must be help at certain temperatures. For this, you may need to check with your utility company. In Springfield and parts of Greene County, City Utilities does offer additional consideration for customers reliant on electricity-dependent medical devices. For these situations, you should call 417–863–9000 to request a Life Support From which will be mailed to your home. Once this is signed by your physician, they will fax the form back to CU.
- Have a backup plan for your health needs: While utility technicians will be aware of the residences that have electricity-dependent medical equipment, they can’t offer any guarantees with regards to restoration times. So, you will need to work to identify back up plans for the next power outage in case there is a delay in getting your power turned back on. Do you have access to a generator or a location that is likely to have power? Have ice packs on hand to keep medicine cold until you can get it back into a refrigerator.
Protect Your Pets:
Remember that our furry companions also need special care during heatwaves and power outages.
- Provide plenty of water and shade: Make sure your pets have a plan to ensure your pets have access to fresh water and a shaded area to cool off.
- Never leave pets in cars: Cars can become dangerously hot within minutes, even with the windows cracked open. Have a plan for keeping them safe if you have to take them with you when you leave your home.
- Identify pet-friendly cooling centers: If you need to evacuate, ensure you have a safe place to take your pets along with you. While some cooling centers may not allow pets, there are other indoor, public places that you could go with your animals like hardware and outdoor supply stores.
Other Tips to Prepare for Power Outages:
Power outages can be frustrating, but with a well-thought-out plan, you can minimize their impact on your daily life.
- Use generators safely: If you have a generator, use it outdoors and away from open windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Include high risk family and friends in your plan: If you’re able, make sure that those around you are prepared before an emergency so they can stay safe. This includes families with children, older adults, and those with pre-existing conditions that may make their more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
Let’s support each other during this challenging time, checking on neighbors, especially those who might be vulnerable or in need of assistance. Together, we can weather any storm and emerge stronger than ever before.
Stay safe and cool!
Maggie Rogers joined Springfield-Greene County Health as an Intern in 2018. Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she served as a Communicable Disease Control Specialist before taking on the role of Coordinator of Epidemiological Services in 2021. In 2022, Maggie assumed the position of the department’s Health Planner and has continued to diligently serve our community in this capacity. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned her Master of Public Health from Missouri State University in 2020. When she is not actively engaged in community preparedness for public health emergencies, Maggie dedicates her time to working her way through her ‘to-be-read’ list and cherishing moments with her canine companions, Susan and Tucker.