Earthquakes, slides, pandemic flu and other disease outbreaks, and accidents or
exposures involving hazardous substances are real or potential health threats
to individuals and communities. They can affect air quality, cause shortages of
safe water and food, and cut off your access to electricity, gas, telephone,
medicines, and other services. Family members may be separated. Hospitals and
other health services may be overwhelmed during public health emergencies.
Although such incidents are difficult to prepare for, there are steps you can
take to protect your health and well-being.
So, what can you do to
viruses, bacteria, low-level radiation, and other potentially harmful
substances are common in the environment. When these substances are released in
large quantities or get out of our control, they can become immediate public
health threats. Guidelines for how to prepare for and avoid a problem often
depend on how the particular substance is spread.
In general, a
health threat may spread through a community:
Chemicals are the most likely
source of air contamination. An accident at a plant or factory or a train wreck
might release large amounts of a hazardous chemical into the air, for instance.
viruses causing diseases such as
anthrax, pneumonic plague,
tularemia were released in a spray (aerosol) form,
anyone who inhaled the substance could be affected. While air itself does not
become radioactive, release of radiation into the environment can create
radioactive dust and dirt (fallout) that can make the air unsafe.
What to do
If a hazardous substance
is released into the environment:
metals like lead and mercury, and living organisms such as bacteria and viruses
can all be threats to a safe water supply. These substances can also
contaminate food. Unintentional contamination of water as a result of chemical
leaks or spills, natural disasters, and other causes has been a much bigger
problem than deliberate contamination. Likewise, accidental food contamination
botulinum toxin (the agent that causes botulism),
E. coli, and other harmful organisms during the
storage or preparation of food is much more likely than intentional
How to prepare
With the exception of a known accident (such as a
chemical spill into the water supply), you probably would not know you had
consumed contaminated water or food unless you developed symptoms.
To reduce your risk of consuming contaminated food or water and to be
better prepared for public health emergencies affecting the water supply:
is an emergency affecting the water supply:
Some bacteria, viruses, and other biological agents can be spread from
person to person, or from animals or insects to people. The ease of
international travel has made many of these health threats more difficult to
contain. Recent health threats such as H5N1 influenza (avian flu), SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the
West Nile virus, and monkeypox have made people more
aware of how easily disease can spread, not just within a community but from
one community to the next.
The World Health Organization has
current, reliable information about communicable diseases and health concerns
throughout the world. Visit the agency's website at www.who.int/en for updates
on specific health emergencies.
To reduce your chances of being infected with or
spreading a contagious disease:
A little organization can go a long
way toward helping you feel ready to handle the unexpected. Having an emergency
plan and an emergency supplies kit for your household can help you and your
family be better prepared for any kind of disaster.
Putting together an
emergency plan is easy.
You may have other things you want to include in your
plan, especially if you have children in school or if anyone in your household
has special needs. Review your plan yearly, and make sure that phone numbers,
e-mail addresses, and other items are still current.
of an emergency kit are the same no matter what the situation: water, food,
first aid supplies and medicines, blankets and clothing, special needs items
(such as baby formula), and certain tools and household items, including a
battery-powered radio, a flashlight, and extra batteries.
disaster supplies checklist(What is a PDF document?) as you gather supplies. Store everything in one
place, preferably a cool, dark location. Consider putting together a smaller
version of your emergency kit that you could take if you had to leave your
home. Once you've assembled your emergency supplies, remember to check and
replace them periodically:
For more information, see the Other Places to Get Help
section of this topic.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerThomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMay 23, 2016
Current as of:
May 23, 2016
Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine
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