Severe weather events already this month are a good reminder of the need for North Carolina residents to be prepared for natural and man-made disasters. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), along with our public safety partners, encourages individuals to stock up on basic necessities such as food and water, but just as important, to consider preparing now for recovery after the storm is over.
We need only look at recent disasters such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma, the terrorist bombings during the Boston Marathon, and the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy to understand the importance of developing resilience within a community. Studies show that the more prepared the community, the faster and more robust its recovery will be. After the attacks on 9/11, our state established a Public Health Preparedness and Response program in the DHHS Division of Public Health to help develop local resources and the knowledge necessary for communities to help themselves during and after emergencies. Four regional offices work with local health departments and emergency responders across the state to enhance community resilience through better communication and coordination. Public health collaborates with other agencies within DHHS to oversee resources and staff that are prepared to respond to emergencies through local departments of social services, area agencies on aging and mental health providers to ensure that our citizens get the support they need in their own communities during recovery.
Our primary mission at DHHS is to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all North Carolinians. To that end, we strongly encourage and support individual preparedness for emergencies. To identify the resources you and your family will need during and after a hurricane or other catastrophic event, you should make a plan. Our public health preparedness team has put together a Family Disaster Plan that is available to download and complete at http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/phpr/individuals.html.
As part of your planning, it is important for each person to know what their medical conditions are and what medicines they take and keep an amount packed in a ready-go bag in case they need to evacuate or supplies are delayed. You need to know what durable medical goods you use regularly and what alternative power sources might be needed if the electricity goes out. You should have an evacuation plan and know who to call if an evacuation is ordered. If you or a family member has a health condition, it is critical to know how to reach a health care provider if you are sheltered or displaced. Anyone who is not sure how to address their specific concerns should make a point of discussing them with their health care provider.
Most importantly, people with medical issues or disabilities need to have access to information. DHHS provides specially-adapted weather radios to ensure that individuals with documented hearing loss are alerted to severe weather events and other emergencies. If you are a senior citizen, ask your local agency on aging what services, like door to door notification, may be available to you.
Recent events across the country and here at home reinforce that it is the community that provides the essential early links to resources and assistance. Neighbors reach out to neighbors, communities reach out to communities. There are many ways that individuals, churches and civic groups can become involved to help others in your community. One very good approach would be to contact your local health department or emergency management office and ask to speak with those involved in preparedness planning. By being involved in preparation, you can have more of a sense of control if disaster strikes in your community.
- Dr. Laura Gerald, State Health Director