News & Events

Personal disaster planning for individuals and families: begin today

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
July/August Edition

By Evelyn Bain, M Ed, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director/Coordinator, Health & Safety

Recently, at a joint meeting of the Congress on Health and Safety and the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force, there was discussion about emergency planning for individuals and families. It was agreed that a previous publication on “Personal Preparedness for Disaster” should be updated and run in the Massachusetts Nurse again for good measure.

The newest and most comprehensive documents for emergency planning can be found at, then click on Ready America. This site will lead you to the preparedness plans developed by the Department of Homeland Security and, specifically, the plans recommend that everyone:

  1. Get a kit of emergency supplies
  2. Make a plan for what you will do in an emergency
  3. Be informed about what might happen

While nurses ponder these suggestions/questions, and while negotiations around emergency preparedness in hospital and community settings evolve, the importance of personal and household preparedness may be neglected. Household preparedness goes beyond the milk, bread and batteries that we New Englanders gather like squirrels when snow is in the forecast.

In your own backyard

Learning about your community will reveal what chemical hazards may threaten your safety. Is there a nuclear power plant near your home? Or a chlorine storage tank or a railroad track that may transport hazardous materials? Learn about the response plan in your community and then think about how you and your family fit into it.

Other questions to consider: Where are the shelters that would be accessible? Can you take your pets with you to shelters?

FEMA (at notes that families may be separated during a disaster, and we can all understand this possibility based on the stories that came out of Hurricane Katrina. Because of this terrifying but real possibility, make and communicate a plan for each person in your family to check in with a friend or relative who lives out of the area.

In addition, make sure that all family members know how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity at the main switches. Consult with your local utilities if you have questions.

The kit: what to pack
A disaster supply kit with food, water and supplies for at least three days is recommended as the first level of preparedness. As we begin thinking of an influenza pandemic, the need may be for a few weeks supply. A normally active person requires two quarts of water daily, just for drinking. While a healthy person can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period or even without food for many days, water intake must remain at normal levels. Store enough water. Canned foods are a good source of emergency rations—just be sure that a manual can-opener is safely tucked in with the supplies. Replace and restock food supplies every six months.

The portable, battery-operated radio and flashlight (that gets checked as storms are predicted) are also identified as part of disaster kit along with matches in a waterproof container; a shut off wrench; pliers; duct tape; and scissors. Duct tape repairs almost anything, temporarily.

Important household documents, along with a small amount of cash, kept together with important phone numbers, insurance papers and a credit card, are items that should be stored in a watertight container and kept readily accessible. Organizing this now will save time and confusion if you must evacuate rapidly.

Finally, a disaster supply kit for your car that includes smaller amounts of emergency rations of food and water, seasonal driving supplies, a shovel and extra winter clothing, including hats and gloves should be in your trunk in the event of that next hurricane or blizzard.

For more insights, details and suggestions, visit