Skip to comments.In Case of an Emergency -- What your family needs to know about bioterrorism
Posted on 08/28/2002 12:17:30 PM PDT by ChocChipCookie
Not long ago, bioterrorism wasn't on the minds of most Americans. But one year ago -- after terrorists turned commercial airliners into weapons of mass destruction and others subsequently launched an anthrax attack through the U.S. mail -- we all became acutely aware of the potential for all kinds of terrorism on American soil.
As a U.S. senator -- as well as a doctor, a specialist in infectious diseases, and a member of the Senate's subcommittee on public health -- I spent a lot of time after those horrifying events talking to frightened Americans about how to best prepare for a biological or chemical attack. Lately, people's fears have abated as reports of terrorism have faded from the headlines. But unfortunately, the threat of further bioterror is as real today as it was a year ago. That's why I feel it's necessary for American families to understand the importance of being ready for a potential biological or chemical assault. Government obviously has a critical role, but there is much that every individual can do as well. After all, doesn't it make sense for each of us to do everything in our power to minimize our vulnerabilities?
I am focusing my efforts on families in particular because, sadly, young children are at greater risk from certain types of bioterrorism that adults are. Younger people breathe faster than grown-ups, which can make inhalation agents like anthrax or smallpox more dangerous to them. They are more likely to have minor cuts and scrapes, which make it easier for germs to enter the body. In addition, many of the potential bioterror agents cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration and shock in kids.
On a policy level, I've been working with our public-health system to make sure it has the resources to address the specific needs of children in the event of bioterrorism. But on a personal level, I'm working closely with moms and dads across the country to make sure their families are prepared for a potential disaster. Here's what everyone needs to have.
A COMMUNICATION PLAN
First, family members need to discuss how they will get in touch with one another in the event of a disaster. Most families already keep a list of local emergency contacts posted on the refrigerator or on file at their children's day-care center or school, which is a smart first step. But I also recommend that families choose one person (a relative or a close friend) who lives out of state to be their contact in case of an emergency. Why? In a disaster, it's often easier to phone long-distance than it is to call locally. If your kids are old enough, have them memorize that out-of-state number. If not, make sure that their baby-sitter, day-care provider or teacher has it on hand.
A MEETING PLACE
Every family should designate a "safe room" in their house or apartment that they can go to if a local attack occurs. Don't use the basement -- in a chemical attack, the heaviest vapors would sink to the lowest place in the house. If you have a room without windows, choose that one. If not, use the one with the least ventilation from outside. Make sure it's equipped with duct tape so you can seal the windows against chemical contamination. Also, make sure it has a telephone and a radio so you have access to emergency instructions.
It's also a good idea to designate another meeting spot in case you can't get to your own home. (After a bioterror attack, certain areas could be cordoned off or quarantined.) Choose the home of a friend or family member who lives in a nearby town. Make sure to discuss this alternate destination regularly so kids know it by heart.
A DISASTER KIT
Finally, I believe it's critical that every family have a collection of basic supplies available that would allow them to be self-sufficient for several days. Pack your supplies (see list below) in a container such as a covered trash can or a large duffel bag. Store it in a place that's easily accessible, and make sure every family member knows where it is.
I realize this all sounds very scary -- and it is. But what's even more frightening is remaining unprepared. So I'd like to urge all American families to sit down together -- maybe at supper tonight -- and map out a plan for what youd do in the event of a chemical or bioterror attack. Talk to your children in terms they can understand, and reassure them that it's highly unlikely that anything bad will happen to them. Still, tell them there are certain things that they -- and all Americans -- need to know, just in case.
* WATER. Keep a three-day supply on hand, figuring one gallon a day for each person.
* FOOD. Good items include canned meats, juices, fruits, and soups, as well as power bars and energy snacks. (Again, have enough for three days.) If necessary, keep jars of baby food and canned infant formulas as well. Make sure you have a manual can opener.
* GOGGLES. Have one pair of swimming goggles for each member of the family, to protect the eyes from gases and other irritants.
* FACE MASKS. Buy filtered fiber masks for each member of the family, available for a few dollars each at most hardware stores. Look for ones with N95 certification to ensure they will filter out small particles.
* FLASHLIGHT. Make sure you have extra batteries.
* RADIO. Portable and battery-operated.
* SLEEPING BAG or thermal blanket -- one for each member of the family.
* DUCT TAPE. Keep handy to seal windows in the event of chemical or biological contamination.
* FIRST-AID SUPPLIES. Include a week's supply of any necessary prescription medicines as well as general OTC medications: painkillers like aspirin and acetaminophen, a mild laxative, antidiarrhea medication, and antihistamines.
* EXTRAS. Store cash, traveler's checks, and a credit card, plus spare sets of car and house keys. Stock diapers if you need them. It's also smart to have some books or games to keep kids occupied.
HOW TO PREPARE (NOT SCARE) CHILDREN
Here's how to talk to your kids about disaster preparedness without frightening them.
SPARE THEM THE DETAILS. When discussing communication plans and meeting places, don't describe possible disaster scenarios. Instead, say, "These are plans we are making so that we'll be safe if anything bad ever happens," says Richard Bromfield, Ph.D., author of Living with the Boogeyman: Helping Your Child Cope with Fear, Terrorism, and Living in a World of Uncertainty (Prima, 2002).
LET THEM ASK QUESTIONS. Answer in basic, easy-to-understand terms. For instance, if a child asks what kinds of things could happen, say, "We could have a storm and lose power or certain roads could be closed down."
PUT ASIDE YOUR FEARS. Children sense your anxiety, so try to stay calm when talking to them about potential dangers. Reassure them that it's highly unlikely that anything bad will happen.
I have never agreed with "sparing the children" the gory details. If the world is a violent, unmerciful place- better to impart that on your offspring early in life. Why not tell them- "because fanatical lunatics who don't believe you are a first class person might detonate a nuclear bomb in our city"? Sure this would "traumatize" them but they would grow up survivors more willing and able to deal with the ugly truth. We wouldn't have a nation full of mewling kittens like we do today, we'd have a nation full of people who were willing to do what it takes to get the job done.
Also, other handy items to have- a bottle of iodine (against infection) and a claw hammer or small crowbar. It can be used for a variety of things- including a weapon. Also- a worst case scenario plan of escape. For instance- "if worse comes to worst" try to make you way to Idaho" (or whereever). Sounds farfetched- but while you're at it- why not?
Just as long as you don't seal IN carbon monoxide. I believe this has happened before, when people weather-sealed their homes a little TOO well.
Nanny state warning: some states forbid storage of any prescription medicine other than in the container the druggist dispensed it in. (Who cares about justice, so long as drug busts are easy.) Keep it in the original bottle.