News & Events

Disaster/emergency preparedness: what you need to know

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
May 2009 Edition

By Debra Shontz-Stackpole, RN

We live in a world where a whole range of manmade (intentional or technological) and natural disasters are of increasing concern to us as individuals, communities and the nation. Terrorism, floods, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, winter storms and infectious diseases are all too possible. Therefore, the purpose of disaster planning and preparedness at the individual and family level is imperative to be able to respond to sudden health and safety threats.

One reality is obvious: Families that have not planned and prepared for such an event will be less organized and less effective to face the problems of such an event than those who have planned in advance. Becoming informed, developing an emergency preparedness kit and making a family communications/evacuation plan are necessary steps to best be able to respond to disasters of all types.

Starting out
One of the first things that we need to do is to determine our potential threats. These disasters will vary depending on what part of the country you live in. In New England we may need to be prepared for snow and ice storms, extreme cold weather, extreme heat waves, power outages, thunderstorms, floods, terrorism, chemical and biological contamination, pandemics and fires caused by drought.

Disaster can strike at any time and usually without advanced warning, so to begin to get organized you need to start in your home. In many situations, first responders may not be able to get to your home for at least 72 hours and that utility services may be down for many days. Also know that wells may be contaminated so you could also be without safe drinking water.

If you need to evacuate your home or are asked to “shelter-in-place,” having the necessary emergency preparedness supply kit on hand will make you and your family more comfortable, calm and able to cope. If you wait to collect the necessary items, or you don’t get advanced warning of a disaster, local stores may very well end up selling out of all the critical supplies you might need. As a result, advance planning is essential. You should also keep a mini survival kit in each car as you may not be at home when a disaster strikes.

Establish a communications plan
Next, you need to establish an emergency communication plan in which you choose an out-of-town family member or friend that you will all call or e-mail (if you are separated) to be able to check on each other should a disaster occur. Select someone who isn’t in your immediate area so they may not be directly affected by the disaster. Let this person(s) know they are the selected contact. Make sure your children and their schools have this contact name and telephone number as well.

Your family’s disaster plan should include how you will find each other should you be in different locations (at work, school, home or in the car). You should also find out about the disaster plans at your workplace and your children’s school or day care center. Emergency telephone numbers should be posted by the telephone (fire, police, ambulance and family telephone numbers). If your children have cell phones, have them put these telephone numbers into their cell phones.

Confirm ahead of time with your family a predetermined meeting place away from your home as this will save time and reduce chaos should your home be affected or your community evacuated. Be informed of your town’s plan for notifying its’ citizens of an emergency. If the local authorities ask you to leave your home, you should listen to the radio or TV and follow the instructions of the local emergency officials.

Preparing to shelter
Take your disaster preparedness supply kit to the car and have your family dress with appropriate clothing that covers their body so they are as shielded as possible. Turn off your utilities if you have the time, but leave on your natural gas unless you are advised otherwise (as it can only be turned back on by a professional). Close and lock all windows and doors and then go to a predetermined safe area. Have your family work as a team to make this transition run as smooth as possible. Discuss ahead of time what each member’s duties are if a disaster should happen. Go over this information along with the emergency communication plan every six months when you rotate your water supply and any medications that are in your supply kit. Rotate your canned goods, etc., every year or on their expiration dates.

If you are directed to “shelter-in-place,” you need to remain inside your home, school or office to protect yourself. You must close and lock the windows and doors to the outside. Turn off any appliance that brings in outside air such as fans, air conditioners, heating systems and close fireplaces/woodstoves. Go to the room that you and your family have discussed as part of your emergency communication plans. This should be an interior room without windows, if possible, that is above ground level.

Take your emergency/disaster preparedness supply kit and a battery powered radio or TV into the room to listen to local officials as updated information becomes available. Work as a team to seal all cracks around any windows and doors using duct tape and plastic sheeting. Stay there until you are told that all is safe or that you should evacuate the area.

Other things to consider
Do you know where the closest shelter is to your home? How prepared are you and your family? As you find answers to these questions, as a you work to develop your own emergency preparedness plan, share your knowledge and experiences with any family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who can help spread the word about disaster/emergency preparedness with others.
For more information visit

Debra Shontz-Stackpole, RN is a member of the MNA’s Emergency Preparedness Task Force” If you would like more information about the task force contact Chris Pontus at 781.830.5754 or

Emergency disaster preparedness supplies check list

Download a PDF flier of the Emergency Disaster Preparedness checklist

First aid kit and first aid book
Medical information list for each member of family
Photo identification (license, passport)
Cash/money (ATM’s and credit cards won’t work if electricity is out)
Prescription medications**
Glucose and/or blood pressure monitoring equipment
Anti-diarrheal medication
Antiseptic/alcohol wipes
Eye glasses (2 pair)/contact lenses/sunglasses
Baby Items: diapers/wipes/baby food/formula
Nursing mothers should have a contingency plan for feeding their baby in case they are separated
Plastic baby bottles/nipples
Infant medications/medicine dropper
Feminine hygiene products/BCP
Safety pins
Facial tissue
Toilet paper/moist towelettes
Tooth brush/tooth paste
Paper towels
Soap/liquid antibacterial hand soap
Blankets/sleeping bags/pillows for each person
Sturdy shoes or work boots
Rain gear/vinyl ponchos
One complete change of warm clothing per person
Books/crayons/games/cards/puzzles for children

Water (at least 1 gallon/per person/per day, for 3 days)**
Food (at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food that requires no refrigeration, no preparation and no cooking/per person)
Canned meats: tuna, sardines, ham, chicken, etc.
Canned fruits and fruit juices
Canned vegetables
Dried fruit and canned nuts
Canned soup
Peanut butter
Granola bars
Trail mix
Tea bags/Instant coffee
Dry cereal
Powdered milk
Your family’s comfort foods

Battery powered radio and extra batteries
Can opener (manual)/bottle opener
Cell phone (charged) and car charger
Maps (plan evacuation route with your family)
Spiral notebook/pens/pencils/stamps
Plastic utensils, paper plates, hot and cold cups
Aluminum foil/sealable plastic bags
Trash bags/plastic ties (for personal sanitation use)
Needle and thread
Work gloves/safety goggles
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities (electricity & water)
Pocket knife
Watch or battery-operated clock
Non-latex gloves
Flashlights/spare bulb/extra batteries
Signal flare
Duct tape/plastic sheeting
Dust/face masks
Matches in waterproof container
Permanent marking pen
Emergency thermal blanket
Fire starting supplies
Cans of Sterno
Fire extinguisher (ABC type)
Waterproof plastic container with lid for important papers (vital records/copies of insurance policies/identification and bank account records/passports/birth certificates/video or CD of personal belongings in home)
Additional watertight containers
Emergency telephone numbers
Household chlorine bleach (When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant.)
Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners. To purify water add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. This is the only liquid agent that should be used to purify water.

Pet food, dry or canned and water
Pet supplies/leash
(Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets except service animals that assist people with disabilities.)

**Periodically rotate these items so they are exchanged out of the emergency storage bin every six months and replaced with new items.

Download a PDF flier of the Emergency Disaster Preparedness checklist