Be prepared: The key to handling disasters

Wind-whipped flames on San Miguel Mountain east of San Diego. (Photo: Kevin Key)

The destruction in Florida, the cataclysmic floods in Houston, the massive erosion of the Oroville Dam and the ravaging wildfires up and down the Golden State are all real-time reminders of how vulnerable each one of us is to disaster, no matter who we are or where we live.

It’s too easy to embrace the fallacy that these terrible things only happen to others.  Instead of hoping for the best, we should plan and prepare for the worst.  The safety of our families depends on it.

When a disaster does occur, local officials rely heavily on the hospitals in their communities to provide much needed medical care.

With the images of horrendous devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma still fresh in our minds, it’s appropriate to note that September is National Preparedness Month.  Across the country, government officials, first responders, health care providers, community leaders, volunteers and individuals alike are working collaboratively year-round to ensure that local communities are ready when the next disaster strikes.

Here in California, planning and preparedness is a complex and massive challenge.

We are home to nearly 40 million people, the third-largest land area in the nation and the eighth-largest economy in the world.  California’s size, diversity and climate make our state a highly desirable place to live and work, but this natural beauty is matched by a record of numerous natural and man-made disasters.

From earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and prolonged droughts, to public health emergencies, cybersecurity attacks or radiological or chemical exposures, being ready to respond successfully to any type of a disaster requires planning, training and cooperative partnerships across the public and private sectors.

When a disaster does occur, local officials rely heavily on the hospitals in their communities to provide much needed medical care.

Hospitals are a critical component of a local community’s disaster response infrastructure.  Over the past decade, California’s hospitals and the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), the California Department of Public Health, the California Emergency Medical Services Authority, FEMA,  the Department of Homeland Security and local public safety officials across the state have forged strong relationships which have strengthened our state’s readiness to respond whenever catastrophe strikes.

These partnerships were put under the microscope this past week when more than 700 nurses, doctors, public health officials, emergency preparedness coordinators and hospital leaders gathered in Sacramento for the largest conference on hospital emergency preparedness in the state.

This year’s conference at the Sacramento Convention Center was intended to highlight the importance of partnerships between health care professionals, government agencies and community organizations in being able to both withstand the disaster and ensure a smooth recovery.

It’s essential to remember that all disasters begin and end locally.  And disaster preparedness starts on the home front with personal planning.  Organizing and protecting important papers before a disaster strikes is vital for your personal safety and peace of mind.

And having a family emergency communications plan will help ensure that all members of your household will know how to reach each other and where to meet in an emergency.

The theme of this year’s National Preparedness Month is “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead.  You Can.”  Cal OES’s website – www.caloes.ca.gov – provides an array of resources and information to help you and your community learn what to do when a disaster strikes. And, the American Red Cross’s “Red Cross Ready” emergency preparedness program provides excellent tools to help families withstand a disaster safely.

The images of widespread devastation and human tragedy that have played out on our TV screens for the past few weeks should remind us that none of us are immune when disaster strikes.  Preparation, planning and partnerships are the keys to readiness for you, your family and your community.

Ed’s Note: Cheri Hummel is vice president of Emergency Services and Facilities for the California Hospital Association.


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