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Disaster readiness: Protect children by preparing yourselves

A postal carrier makes his appointed rounds despite the tangle of trees and wires along his route on Lincoln Street in Bangor on Jan. 8, 1998.
A postal carrier makes his appointed rounds despite the tangle of trees and wires along his route on Lincoln Street in Bangor on Jan. 8, 1998. Buy Photo
Posted Oct. 06, 2012, at 8:46 a.m.

Let’s recap. September is National Preparedness Month. But it is October, so let’s stop to realize that preparedness is not something to think about only one month a year. In honor of September, let’s strategically take this opportunity to ready ourselves for the unexpected.

Rule number 1: Know your risks!

The majority of national disasters declared in the United States are weather related. In Maine, we know that winter can bring sudden shifts of extreme temperatures without warning. Witness the ice storm of 1998, when Bangor and Brewer generators blew, almost a million Mainers were without heat, and many had no power for weeks during the freeze. Remember the isolation, the eerie outside silence that was broken only by cracking ice-covered trees? During that time, three people lost their lives: two from carbon monoxide poisoning (from inadequately ventilated generators) and one from a falling tree. Long life is a particularly precious gift, but a preventable death is an especially grievous event.

Rule number 2: Prepare yourself!

Since it is October, think Halloween. The CDC recently developed a novel way of teaching emergency preparedness, called “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic. This is an imaginative way to get across the points of protection. To prevent untimely and unnecessary death, have a plan for safety before the threat of a disaster arrives. Make an emergency kit for both your home and vehicle. Keep basics handy, such as water, food and supplies. At home, stock at least three days-worth of food and water (one gallon per person per day), in addition to critical supplies. For the car, store water, snacks, flashlights, warm clothing or sleeping bag, jumper cables, sand, shovel, ice scraper, flairs, means of communicating, and formula or diapers for young children.

Speaking of children: They are not just little adults, especially when it comes to disaster preparedness. Kids need priority protection. Children have unique needs. They depend upon grown-ups for everything. They are more vulnerable to stressors and hardships. Because children rely so heavily on adults, and have developing bodies and minds, they are strongly influenced by attitudes and emotions of caretakers. To best prepare kids for disaster adversity, adults must prepare themselves!

We are lucky in Maine to have leaders who promote the mission to prepare ourselves. William Jenkins is the director of Maine’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program. In 2011, Jenkins sponsored the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to provide pediatric emergency training for healthcare practitioners from all across the state. This provided exposure to real world pediatric emergencies thorough lectures and interactive exercises. Dr. Christopher Pezzullo is a pediatrician who works in Augusta as the medical director for the division of Population Health; and he is the Maine-Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics liaison to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and works there on our behalf. Both experts suggest that we visit the following web sites to learn more:

www.ready.gov,

http://www.maine.gov/mema/prepare/emergency_prep.shtml, and

http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/cshn/erprep/index.html.

Potentially deadly emergencies can also occur in the form of epidemics. Remember the H1N1 outbreak? Leaders in our state epidemiology office keep us aware of such threats. We all need to do our part by staying informed, getting vaccinated, coughing in our sleeves and practicing scrupulous hygiene. If you are a healthcare practitioner, please sign up to receive health alerts from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention by using the secure emergency messaging system. The MaineHAN emergency alerting system is used to disseminate important information to you during disasters or public health emergencies. Signing up for MaineHAN takes a few minutes by sending an email to HAN@Maine.gov. You may also sign up in person during the upcoming American Academy of Pediatrics Conference in Portland.

Emergency preparedness can protect communities and save lives. Please prepare. Engage your family. Communicate a plan. Sign up for alerts. Practice a drill.

For the sake of all of all children and adults: Be ready and have a plan.

Dr. Janice L. Pelletier is a pediatrician from Orono. Dr. Steve Feder is a pediatrician from Boothbay Harbor.

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