The Medical Minute: Emergency planning starts at home – but extends beyond

September 25, 2014

Preparedness for an emergency or disaster begins at home. That’s the message officials are trying to convey during September, which is National Preparedness Month.

“All families should have the same focus by having an emergency kit, a prepared vehicle and a plan,” said Scott Mickalonis, emergency preparedness program manager at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Mickalonis says each household should have enough nonperishable food and water for each family member to survive for 72 hours. He suggests protein bars and granola bars to provide enough protein and calories.

Ideally, stock items that your family regularly eats so food can be used before expiration, replenished and not be wasted.

"Water only lasts for so long in storage and the food that you'd be storing has a limited shelf life, as well," Mickalonis said. "Rotating that is a great idea. It keeps you thinking about that kit, keeping everything up to date in it, and knowing that it's there and that you can access it when you need to."

Families also should keep supplies for their pets, prescriptions and other medications, an updated list of important phone numbers and other pertinent information that may not be able to be accessed if electricity is lost and computers or mobile devices are out of service.

Store the emergency kit in a cool, dry, temperature-controlled area in air-tight containers to prevent moisture from causing mold or from food drying out.

Once the home is prepared, focus on your vehicles. With the coming cold weather, Mickalonis says it’s time to start thinking about snow. He suggests the following:

  • Have your vehicle serviced for winter readiness.
  • Have the tires and brakes checked.
  • Keep fluids full.
  • Stock your vehicle with some essentials.

"Make sure that you keep a supply of blankets and a flashlight in there in case you do get caught somewhere for a period of time," he says.

Mickalonis also suggests nonperishable food and a paper map. People have become accustomed to relying on electronics that may fail in an emergency.

"Keeping a state or local map in our cars in case we have to take a road we're not familiar with is very important in these situations," he said.

The final step in preparedness is having a plan tailored to your family's specific needs. The first step in that plan is to know your risks.

"Understand what could potentially occur in your area, like if you are in an area that floods a lot, have a plan for all of the people in your home," Mickalonis said.

That plan should include an alternate shelter or plan 'B.'

"If we have to leave our house, where might we meet up? If we're all at work or some other location, how are we going to get together and reunify with each other should we not be able to return to our house?" he said.

There are a lot of factors that go into having an emergency plan and Mickalonis says it starts with family members sitting down and discussing how to react in an emergency and keeping a plan updated once it's established.

He suggests consulting your local emergency management agency for specific information on your municipality and on how to begin your plan.

For more information, visit ready.gov.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Last Updated October 22, 2014