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April 19, 2011 > Are You Prepared If Disaster Should Strike?

Are You Prepared If Disaster Should Strike?

Local Families Are Encouraged to Think Big and Small When Planning

The earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, and closer to home, the 2010 natural gas explosion in San Bruno, are stark reminders of natural and manmade disasters that can send communities-and the world-reeling in their wake.

And in the event of a disaster, there is no question: your family's priorities have to shift in an instant. After all, supplies and services that we often take for granted-like fresh water, and food-may no longer be readily available.

"I think that every time we have another event in the world-the most recent being in Japan-it points to the need for people to be personally prepared, because the official resources we rely on could be potentially stretched so thin that you cannot depend on police, fire or other emergency services," says Kris LaVoy, R.N., Washington Hospital's Chief of Compliance.

LaVoy, who points out that recommendations may vary across local, state and federal agencies, advises having enough emergency supplies to last for at least five days.

"People in the community have to think about being on their own for a period of time, and obviously that involves having on-hand water, food-and from my perspective as a health professional-medications, which is definitely something people shouldn't forget about in their disaster planning," she says.

LaVoy, who takes blood pressure medication herself, is well aware that most insurance carriers often do not allow subscribers to order extra medication for emergencies. For must-have prescriptions, she suggests asking-though not expecting-your family doctor if he or she has samples that you can keep with your emergency kit.

"In general, the concept of first aid is very important in an emergency," LaVoy explains. "Part of your preparedness should be a reasonably good first-aid kit, because the hospital will likely be overtaxed and may not be able to accommodate bumps, bruises and strains. In a true disaster situation, you may not be able to go to an emergency department like you would normally, so first aid is a must for families.

"Another thing you should think about as well: is there somebody in the house with special needs? The very young, elderly or disabled may have special requirements that you really need to think through if emergency services aren't readily available."

Still, there is something else that can be just as critical as individual supplies, according to LaVoy.

"Another aspect of emergency preparedness that I feel very strongly about is the whole idea of a plan," she says. "It's likely that something is going to happen when the family is in six different places, because that's the way our lives are. You have to form a family plan for how you're going to communicate and meet up. An out-of-area central contact person-not someone down the block-should be designated. That way, everybody knows if they can't reach each other, they can call 'Aunt Martha' to find out if the other family members are safe and accounted for."

Ideally, LaVoy encourages families to think both big and small when contemplating what they would need in case of a disaster.

"I always want to remind people of the importance of water," she says. "You can live a long time without food, but water is the big issue. I can hardly imagine at this point in time people who haven't thought of water, but don't forget that you're going to have water needs besides just drinking. Additionally, when you're gathering disaster supplies, don't forget about personal hygiene and bathroom needs. Wet wipes, toilet paper and those sorts of things become a real must-have in these situations."

Ultimately, LaVoy says it pays to think ahead and to look at your family's needs, big and seemingly small.

"In a true emergency, what are you going to do for sanitation?" she points out. "You've got to have a bucket and plastic bag. Over and over the guidance is 'Think worst case, think being on your own.' The fact is that you will likely need to be self sufficient for a period of time if something major occurs."

For detailed information about disaster preparedness, including a streaming video of a seminar presented by Kris LaVoy, R.N., visit

Get Prepared & Get Involved

Everyday citizens can learn how to come to the aid of the community during a widespread emergency as a member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and through Personal Emergency Preparedness training (PEP). For more information, go to or to

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