Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

Needed: Education About Evacuation

When disaster strikes, folks have a choice:  They can “shelter in place” or they can evacuate. Sheltering in place means staying at home or staying at work.

“Home is where the heart is”.  It’s also where our stuff is! Therefore, most people choose to “shelter in place” during a disaster.

Evacuating means leaving home or work and going elsewhere. Leaving familiar surroundings is scary. As a result, many people avoid thinking about it altogether.

This is true for people who live alone. It is also true for families, for people with elderly parents, and for people with pets.

Hopefully, talking about evacuation will reduce its scariness. Then, maybe we can take baby steps toward preparing for it.

There is at least one thing experts agree on: It is the importance of packing a go bag or emergency kit. Packing a go bag should be done ahead of time–that is, before disaster strikes.

How many of us have followed this advice? I do not know.

With Hurricane Sandy, we had advance warning. In some areas, evacuation was mandatory.

In other areas, we had to decide on our own whether to shelter in place or evacuate. We could leave before the storm. If we waited, we knew that our options after the storm might be limited.

Is evacuation necessary? If so, a community-based shelter is probably the option of last resort. Nonetheless, it may be the only option that comes to mind due to television and other media coverage.

What else do people do? Some fly as far away as possible. Some stay with family. Some stay with friends or neighbors. Some–in places like Manhattan–stay at a nearby hotel.

The choices people make when they evacuate depend on many factors. Relevant factors include where their homes are, where they work, when they decide to leave, their support network, and their financial situation.

Each option has advantages and disadvantages.  It makes sense to consider your options now, when things are calm and you can think clearly.

It is important to realize the following:

  • In an emergency, you can find nearby open shelters online.
  • Some shelters take people with special needs and some take pets.
  • A public shelter may be open only temporarily.
  • If your home becomes inaccessible or unliveable,  you might need long-term housing.

Have you worked in an emergency shelter? Have you stayed in one? Have you sheltered with family or friends? Stayed at a hotel? Gone on vacation? Whatever your experience with evacuation, do you have advice for the rest of us?

If so, please comment, question, or share. There is room below.

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Local Residents Step Up

When a tornado hit their hometown of Monson, Massachusetts, Caitria and Morgan O’Neill jumped into action.  They were inspired to “leverage technology for a faster recovery”.

Caitria and Morgan O’Neill gave a TED Talk.  Their video is a gem.  It takes less than 10 minutes to watch.

Recovering from a major disaster such as Hurricane Sandy is a long-term process.   Did you know that “50% of web searches happen in the first 7 days” after a disaster? Until I watched the video, neither did I.

What does this statistic mean? It means that local residents are unlikely to benefit from the concern of outsiders over what may be months or even years of recovery.

Major organizations like the American Red Cross arrive right during and right after a disaster.  Then they leave.  It is up to smaller organizations to carry on.   These smaller organizations–many of them religious–often struggle due to inadequate funding.

Did you know that the work done by local volunteers has a dollar value?  Until I watched the video, neither did I.

The dollar value of volunteer time  can help a town get money from FEMA and State governments? However, it needs to be documented.

There is always room for better thinking and new learning.  Please leave a question or a comment.

Ten Tips For Emotional Resilience

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It seven months later: I’m still thinking about Hurricane Sandy.  As a psychologist, my focus is on the storm’s emotional aftermath.

The people affected are a large group, quite possibly all of us. How will they/we recover from the feelings of helplessness and vulnerability caused by the storm? The answer has much to do with our innate capacity for emotional resilience.

Some people will take advantage of traditional psychotherapy/counseling. Others will use a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach.

It doesn’t matter which group you are in. Here are 10 tips for handling your emotional response(s) to Hurricane Sandy.

1. MINIMIZE EXPOSURE TO THE MEDIA. It’s good to stay informed. Whether it’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy or more recent tragedies, watching stories of misery for hours on end doesn’t help the people affected or you. Will you write to elected officials? Send a check to a charity? Donate clothes? Decide what you will do to aid the recovery. Then stop obsessing and get back to real life.

2. ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS. Talk about what happened with family, friends, and other people.

3. DON’T SELF-MEDICATE. Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and other drugs—either to help you sleep or to deal with feelings. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, get involved with a 12-Step Program. If you’re already clean and sober, go to extra meetings to avoid a relapse.

4. MAKE RELAXATION A PRIORITY: Walk the dog, exercise, go to the park, play bridge, ice skate, or do yoga. Now is the time for self-care.

5. RE-ESTABLISH NORMAL ROUTINES. If major losses make “normal” impossible, define a new normal. Then take small steps toward achieving it. Go fishing. Go for a swim. See the fireworks.

6. DON’T ISOLATE. Sometimes, staying inside your own head is not a good place to hang out! Say “thank you” to people who are making a difference. Ask other people how they’re doing. LISTEN to their response.

7. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT PREPAREDNESS. Learn what to do if another storm strikes. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness (2009) is by Maurice A. Ramirez and John Hedtke; it is easy to understand and readily available. To avoid getting overwhelmed, find one thing you can do now to be safer during the next storm. Then do it–even if it’s just buying a fresh supply of batteries!

8. MOURN YOUR LOSSES. Losses can include a beloved pet, a home, a boardwalk, or a favorite tree. Losses can also include your sense of safety and your ability to trust the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies.

9. RECOGNIZE SYMPTOMS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IN YOURSELF & OTHERS. They include numbing, hyper-arousal, irritability, anxiety, depression, reactivity to reminders of the trauma (seeing fallen trees or living through another storm), tension, stress related medical problems, feelings of detachment and estrangement from others, bad dreams, and insomnia.

10. IF NEEDED, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. Find a licensed therapist familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Do you have a problem with alcoholism or drug addiction? If so, look for a licensed therapist who is also a Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).

Do these tips ring true? If not, speak up. Comment about what you’ve tried, what’s been helpful, and what’s been a waste of time.

We each have our own story. We need to learn from one another.