The U.S. government received a failing grade this week from a bi-partisan commission tasked with grading the response to a biological terror attack. Cited in the commission’s report was the amount of time it took for the government to produce vaccines for the H1N1 virus, even though the outbreak came with months of warning. The report also cited the fact that even though the 9/11 commission had recommended consolidating oversight of homeland security, there are still between 82 and 108 Congressional committees and sub-committees that oversee the Department of Homeland Security.
What we should take away from this report is that if there is a biological attack, we should be prepared to take care of ourselves and our families on our own. We can’t depend on a fast efficient response from the government to a large scale disaster. We saw what happened after Hurricane Katrina. The response to the disaster in Haiti was much faster, but it still took days to get even the most basic of first aid supplies and food to people.
Following are some tips to help prepare yourself and your family in case of a biological attack:
- If there is a major disaster in your area that requires evacuation or quarantine, you may find that it is impossible to return to your home. It is also possible that you may not be able to pick up other family members from school or work. In case of such an event, you should select a place outside of your immediate area that is fairly easy to reach as a pre-planned meeting spot for your family, such as a relative’s house. That way everyone knows that if they can’t go back home, then this is where they should go.
- In the case of a disaster or a major blackout, you may not have cell phone service. If you have a family then your home should be equipped with a land line, preferably with voicemail service rather than a separate answering machine. (The answering machine will shut off in a power outage.) Your family should be instructed to call that number and leave a message reporting their whereabouts. If you have a land line and voicemail service, you will probably be able to access those messages remotely from a payphone or other phones tied to a hard line. You could even leave further instructions on the outgoing message.
- You should have a first aid kit at home, stocked with the standard bandages, antiseptic ointments, pain relievers, thermometers, etc.
- You should also have an emergency preparedness kit. This kit should be stocked with bottled water, non-perishable food, blankets, flares, a flashlight, battery powered radio, disposable plastic bags, waterproof matches, a camp stove or sterno and sanitation/hygiene supplies like toilet paper and toothbrushes. The stored water should be changed every six months.
- Make sure that you have a backup battery for your cell phone.
- If you are at home during a biological attack, it may be best to stay put. To prepare for this you should keep plastic sheets and electrical tape handy so that you can seal windows and doors creating a safe-haven room. A large room on an upper floor with an adjoining bathroom would be ideal.
- Never let the gas tank in your car get below half a tank. In the event of an emergency you don’t want to take the extra time to fill an empty tank and gas may not be available.
- Always keep a supply of cash in your home. ATM machines may not be working.
- Practice home evacuation drills with your family and familiarize them with your emergency plans.
- Place phone numbers of emergency services and important contacts in a visible place in your home. Make sure that your children know where these numbers are and which ones to call in an emergency.
The most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves and our families is to plan ahead for disasters. Having a plan in place saves critical time, eases communication and prevents confusion.