After Katrina: Preparing for a Disaster

WebMD Live Events Transcript

If disaster strikes, are you prepared? What would you do if basic services -- water, gas, electricity or telephones -- were cut off? September is National Preparedness Month, a joint initiative between the Department of Homeland Security and the American Red Cross. It's a reminder to make sure that you and your family are prepared for disasters -- whether natural or a man-made. To help you get ready, Sheldon Marks, MD, co-author of the "Preparedness Checklist," was our guest on Sept. 7, 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live. Today Sheldon Marks, MD, author of Preparedness Checklist: Tools for Survival, is here to talk with us about getting ready for an emergency -- natural or man-made.

Dr. Marks, Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much. You can't stop a hurricane but was there anything residents could have done beforehand to prepare?

The biggest thing people can do is realize that these disasters, whether natural or man-made, can be totally unpredictable and far more devastating than anyone can anticipate. There are basically four things in general that we can all do to take care of ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country.

This can be spelled out with the word RACE:

  • R : This is for responsibility.
    Every adult must understand that he or she is the only one responsible for his or her own safety and protection. The system (including police, firefighters, the government, power, water, etc., all are there to help, but, as with the recent catastrophe, they could be gone in an instant. Each of us has to take responsibility and say "What can I do to take care of myself and my family?"

  • A : The next is attitude.
    Preparedness is a mindset. If you wait until everybody else is screaming and running or getting in line to buy batteries or toilet paper, then you have waited too long. We should all understand that life is filled with lots of surprises, and we need to develop an attitude of preparedness, not just when the hurricane is coming, or when the terror alert comes up a notch, but on a day-to-day basis.

    We need to consider what we're buying when we go shopping and maybe add a few cans of beans or tuna or maybe a few extra cases of bottled water to have, just in case. There is no way that any community or region or agency can take care of everybody's needs in a disaster. So not only do we need to take responsibility, but we need to improve our attitude, to be aware and prepared.

  • C : This is for community.
    We need to realize the real strength in overcoming any disaster is the community we live in, which includes our neighbors, apartment complex, co-workers, etc. A group of people working together is the ultimate survival secret. So even if you individually have the correct attitude and are prepared, that alone will not be enough. You need to reach out to your community so as a group you are prepared.

  • E : Lastly, we need to evaluate.
    Realize that whatever we anticipate and plan may not be what happens. The world is ever-changing and we must constantly re-evaluate how we have prepared and make whatever changes are necessary.

What medical records should you have on your person in case of an emergency?

This is an excellent question, and everybody should pay attention to this answer -- even if they're healthy and everyone in their family is healthy. From the beginning of my practice I have always told all of my patients to keep records of all doctors' visits, lab results, X-rays, and procedures, in their own personal file.

"Far more people will die of the illnesses and injuries after the disaster than from the wind and water itself."

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