Natural disasters are a part of life and emergency situation occur more frequently than most people believe. After a disaster, how well a community can recover will greatly depend on how well they have been prepared in advance. Preemptive organization of resources and the responsiveness to emergencies can mean the difference between a community’s ability to regroup and recover, and the loss of life. To better understand the preparation for emergencies, a thorough examination and summary of emergency events and health care workers in response to specific key characters’ health issues will be performed. Next, identification of types of public health agencies (local, state, and national) that could be called upon to respond to emergencies and discuss how public health care teams can enhance personal preparedness.
Lastly, suggestions will be offered to boost personal preparedness for the type of emergency that is applicable to this community. A fire broke out in the Neighborhood community and the soon after the residents developed respiratory complications related to smoke from the fire. The fire continued to burn after five days (Pearson Health Science, 2011), and unfortunately the community lacks an emergency preparedness and response plan and is desperately in need of one.
Summary of Events and Residents
The Neighborhood is a small town located near a forest and along the bank of a river with a population of 64,200 residents, one-third of which are elderly. For the past five days, a wildfire has been burning out of control and approaching the town, it has destroyed numerous acres of land. Firefighters have been battling to obtain control of the forest fire and health care workers have been struggling to deal with their patients and their respiratory issues. The poor air quality that have been blown in by high winds have prompted City officials to discourage the citizens in the community not to venture outside their homes, unless absolutely necessary. The poor air quality has been impacting the entire town’s population; particularly those with lung disease. Both the hospital and outpatient clinics are at capacity with patients and the hospital is experiencing a staff shortage. In addition to the shortage the hospital has instituted a mandatory overtime for its staff.
Two of the Neighborhood’s residents are Jimmy Bley and his wife, Cecilia, who have been married for 56 years. They are both Native Americans in their mid-70s and both have been experiencing medical issues. Jimmy suffers from hearing loss and moderate emphysema, which he says, “it’s not that bad”, yet he is frequently short of breath. He knows that if he ‘pushes’ himself, he can suffer exhaustion and be ill for days. Jimmy has been a smoker for most of his life and has no intention of stopping. Cecilia, on the other hand, suffers from osteoarthritis, which she says is “an annoyance”. Cecelia alerts Jimmy to the fact that the dryer needs to be fixed. Jimmy knows that he needs to go out to the hardware store in order to fix the dryer, however, the poor air quality and the warning from the City officials have kept him from venturing out doors.
The nearby middle school has been scheduled over the weekend, as the site of the annual science fair. More than fifty children from the school plan to participate in the fair. The fair has not been cancelled in spite of the recommendation from City Officials. The school nurse has assessed one student, in particular, for breathing difficulties; increased respiratory rate, coughing and wheezing.
The Neighborhood also has a senior center, which offers activities, as well as health screening for the geriatric population. The nurse who runs the center has thirty-plus years of geriatric experience. She has informed seniors to stay inside, away from the smoke irritants in the air, after noting their increased oxygen use and coughing.
Community Reaction to Emergency
Neighborhood’s hospital is impacted with patients who are experiencing an exacerbation of asthma and emphysema related to the poor air quality and smoke. The emergency department requests for beds from the inpatient side, however the inpatient hospital is a capacity and can not accommodate the need for admissions. This places strain on the emergency room staff and their moral begins to decline. The staff is under pressure to discharge patients early to help keep the flow of the emergency room going, they also begin to feel the sense of defeat and inadequate staffing. In light of the events, Hospital administration has decided to implement mandatory overtime, which adds to the already stressed staff.
At the Senior Center, seniors have been advised by Karen, a geriatric nurse, not to go out doors and to stay away from irritants in the air. Nurse Violet has been providing coverage for the elementary, middle school and high school. She often feels that she is unable to be as effective as she would like to be due to the extensive needs of many students. This day, Violet, assess a young student who was brought in by her teacher, due to increased respiratory rate, coughing and wheezing. After the assessment she calls the student’s mother to request that she come and pick up her daughter from school to be seen at the doctor’s office. Violet also educated the mother on the importance and benefits of keeping a metered dose rescue inhaler at school.
Resources for Local, State and National Response Assistance
Ensuring the community is safe in times of a disaster is a joint effort between community, state and national agencies. Stanhope and Lancaster, (2008) discuss local community health’s responsibility in disaster. In case of an event, state and local health departments in the affected area will be expected to collect data and accurately report the situation, to respond appropriately to any type of emergency, and to ensure the safety of the residents of the immediate area, while protecting those just outside the danger zone. The American Red Cross is an nonprofit organization, which assist people after a disaster by providing immediate, needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter, (What Happens Now, 2008). The Red Cross could have been accessed to help the Neighborhood with the fire danger. American Red Cross, (2010) writes, “The American Red Cross is where people mobilize to help their neighbors-across the street, across the country, and across the world in emergencies” (pg.1 para.1). Other agencies that have the capability to distribute manpower, volunteers, equipment, supplies and financial support are FEMA and the United States Fire Administration (USFA).
These volunteers can assist an over-taxed medical system to help triage patients and support medical or other staff. FEMA is a national organization that supports the citizens and first responders to create, maintain, and improve the capability to protect against, prepare, respond, recover, and mitigate all disasters. FEMA employs more than 7474 people throughout the United States (FEMA, 2011). The USFA offers advance training and education in many areas for emergency preparedness, and according to the 2010 annual report, it continues to provide career and volunteer fire service education and training at the National Fire Academy (NFA) through immense amount of courses and programs to include, but not limited to, fire prevention and suppression technologies, incident management, leadership and advanced managerial skills. Since the induction of the USFA and its programs of public education and awareness initiatives as well as training, research, technology development, data collection and analysis, the non-fire service death and injury rates have steadily improved. All of these federal resources are one that might be accessed by a local community experiencing a disaster.
These agencies have resources available to aid a community in preparing before a disaster strikes. There are grants, which can be applied for, by local communities to help with training and staffing for fire prevention. Stanhope and Lancaster (2008), remind us of the invaluable resources from Homeland Security, “The DHS works with first responders throughout the United States through the develo9pment of programs such as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), trains individuals to be better prepared to respond to emergency situations in their communities” (pg.60, para.2). By having proper resources available and being prepared for emergencies, along with a well develop plan of action, can potentially help prevent loss of life, while moving towards a fast recovery.
Public Health Care Teams in Emergency Preparedness
Public health preparedness is an immense concern secondary to the number of Americans who rely on the strong public health system and officials to meet the stress of any emergency. Public health care teams have partnerships with volunteer agencies as well as law enforcement and government agencies for safety and disaster assistance. Public health care agencies can increase public awareness through programs for disaster preparedness and disaster relief. Through education, the public will help produce response in an organized manner and decreasing mass confusion and panic. Pubic health can also help citizens prepare by conducting mock drills, as well as assisting them put together a personal disaster plan. Public health nurses can also participate by providing education regarding specific ways for individuals and communities to prepare for emergency situations. The public health care agencies, posses the ability to provide information regarding emergency shelters in the surrounding areas and escape routes in the event of an emergency. In the case with the Bley family, public health care teams should have assisted the household by checking on them, assisting with their needs, and providing them with the necessary supplies.
Personal Emergency Preparedness
Educating your self about the history of wildfires in the area in which you reside is important in order to develop a plan for emergent escape. Familiarizing oneself with the area, road sighs, route information, the address of the location and providing the correct information to emergency responders will help them be able to get to the area quickly. Individuals should have ready access to the following in the event of an emergency; important documents such as insurance policies, home deeds, current medication lists, ample supply of medication on hand for at least 10 to 14 days, cell phones, battery operated radios, food and water (American Red Cross, 2012). As a homeowner, residents should be proactive to ensure that they reduce the risk of their home catching on fire by clearing ten to thirty feet of brush space around the home as well as having an outside water source (FEMA, 2012). Fire Wise, a project of the National Fire Protection Association, (2011), also provides homeowner safety suggestions one of which is the Home Ignition Zone.
The Home Ignition Zone begins with at least thirty feet of space immediately around the parameter of the home and extending out as far as 100 to 200 feet depending on the characteristics of the surrounding forest or grasslands. Creating and maintaining the Home Ignition Zone reduces or eliminates ignition and hazards presented by vegetation, and combustible construction will improve the chances that the structure will survive a fire. An evacuation plan should be well thought out and each family should be familiar with the strategies. The plan needs to be carried out in a swift, calm manner avoiding any panic.
Having routine drills at home will create a sense of assurance and also develop role responsibility of each family member. Elderly and disabled persons may need assistance with evacuation. Once immediate family is safe, a plan should be in place to check on neighboring houses to see if others need assistance. In the event the situation is too dangerous, then local authorities should be contacted at all cost.
Emergencies and natural disasters can occur at anytime when least expected. Prevention and disaster preparedness is key to ensure public safety and eliminate chances of unwanted deaths. A well-developed plan needs to be in place, avoiding panic and remaining calm will ensure a well-organized execution of emergency plan.
American Red Cross. (2010). Work with the Red Cross. Retrieved from http://www.redcross.org FEMA. (2012). Who we are. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/about/index.shtm Fire Wise. (2011). Home Ignition Zone. Retrieved from http://www.firewise.org Stanhope, M., & Lancaster, J. (2008). Public health nursing population-centerd health care in the community (7th ed.). St Louis, MI: Mosby Elsevier. United States Fire Administration. (2010). Fiscal year 2009. Retrieved from http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/annual_reports/fy09_usfa_annual_report.pdf