PUBLIC HEALTH DISASTER PREPAREDNESS
Disasters can affect every community, regardless of location, size, and demographics. They can be natural or man-made, have a gradual or sudden onset, with a short or long duration. The frequency and impact of disasters has increased dramatically since the 1950’s due to increasing populations, globalization, and environmental changes.
Some disasters can be prevented (for example, if most individuals are vaccinated or immunized against a particular disease it may not be able to spread). There is nothing that can be done to prevent some disasters, such as hurricanes. However, their negative effects can be minimized if we have planned and prepared in advance.The Department of Homeland Security developed a website with a great deal of information to help individuals, families and businesses prepare for disasters.
For specific information related to disasters in Lee County (i.e., a list of public shelters, All Hazards guide, evacuation routes and more) please see Lee County Emergency Management’s website.
The most probable threats to Southwest Florida come from hurricanes or other tropical storms and epidemics/pandemics.
Lee County is, at times, threatened by hurricanes and other severe tropical storms. The most recent hurricanes that had an impact on Lee County were Charlie in 2004, Wilma in 2004, and Faye in 2008. These hurricanes caused various amounts of damage and widespread power outages that, in some cases, lasted for many days/weeks.
Several public shelters will open in Lee County when it appears that a hurricane will make landfall nearby.
Some county residents, who have medical issues but are able to live at home under normal circumstances, may be at special risk in the event of a hurricane and power failure. Lee County’s special needs shelters are designed to assist these individuals. Advanced registration for special needs shelters is required each year.
An epidemic occurs when the new cases of a disease break out in a given population, during a given period, are substantially higher than what was expected. Because it is based on what is expected or normal, a few cases of a very rare disease may be classified as an epidemic, while many cases of a common disease (such as the common cold) would not.
A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region, such as a continent, or even the entire world. Pandemics occur when a disease that can cause serious illness is able to spread easily among humans.
Two recent flu types have caused world-wide concern: bird flu and swine flu. Bird flu appears to be the most virulent of the two yet it is currently not easily spread from human to human. Swine flu (or H1N1), on the other hand, seems to effortlessly infect new hosts but its effects are not nearly as deadly.
There are some very simple actions everyone can take that will lessen the spread of flu and colds:
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise appear ill
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Wash your hands often
- If you are ill, stay home from work, school and other gatherings
- Cough and sneeze into your sleeve
- If you think you have influenza, please call your health care provider and discuss whether you need to be seen in their office, emergency department, or stay home.
The Southwest Florida Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers are a great resource for the Lee County Health Department during disaster response and in preparing for disasters. MRC members consist of medical professionals and lay persons – all have an important role to fill. They assist in special needs shelters, flu vaccine clinics, alternate medical care sites in mass casualties, disaster behavioral health, and much more. For more information and/or to join this fine organization, please see their website. www.swflmrc.org