Big freeze heats up need for emergency plans for individuals and institutions

airliftwatertexasfreeze-300x227The climate change deniers can holler their heads off. But for all too many people from coast-to-coast, Mother Nature’s fury is tragically clear — as is the importance of not only future thinking but also emergency planning, by individuals and institutions.

This includes knowing common sense steps to safeguard one’s self and loved ones, in unusual circumstance, from misuse and abuse of ordinary products that also may have their own shortcomings, defects, or dangers.

Huge hurrahs, of course, are in order for the overworked, overstressed, and valiant doctors, nurses, and other health workers who — even while battling the over load of the coronavirus pandemic — have kept up medical services in hard hit areas of Texas and elsewhere during a brutal winter storm and its harsh freeze. The nightmarish conditions afflicted not only big hospitals but also those who provide desperately needed at-home care to the vulnerable.

As the Texas Tribune reported:

“Hospitals across Texas struggled through water outages and food supply disruption in the wake of this week’s historic and debilitating winter storm. Patient logjams, overflowing emergency rooms and hospital beds, exhausted workers, staffing shortages and power outages added to the challenging conditions, hospital officials said. ‘To see this type of crisis on top of what we’ve dealt with, with the pandemic, and to see how our staff have responded, is one of the most awe-inspiring things that I’ve worked with over the course of my career,’ said Doug Lawson, CEO of CHI St. Luke’s Health in Houston. The Crosbyton Clinic Hospital east of Lubbock took in residents from a nearby nursing home after that facility’s roof partially collapsed, according to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, which was monitoring rural hospitals … In Brady, east of San Angelo, the icy conditions delayed the delivery of clinical supplies and food to the Heart of Texas Healthcare System Hospital, causing hospital staff to turn to local retailers. At Olney Hamilton Hospital in North Texas, staff spent the night at the hospital to avoid being stranded at home unable to get to work.”

President Biden has offered fast federal aid and support to winter storm-struck areas, which are in urgent need of supplies like drinking water (photo above shows Texas Guard readying a delivery by chopper). He also has made climate change a priority in policy making in his administration, calling it an existential threat to the planet.

Let’s leave it to others with excellent environmental expertise to advocate, based on the best available science and factual evidence, the nation’s best paths forward to deal with soaring worries about the green damages that humanity has inflicted on the world.

It’s a positive to plan now

In human-scale, immediate terms, the four seasons of relentless natural calamities that now seem to afflict us all should be an inarguable sign that practical planning is a good thing. This does not mean digging a deep bunker and filling it with survivalist resources to outlast the arrival of an apocalypse.

It does include understanding that exposure to extremes in heat and cold can be life threatening and should not be dismissed.

While the water and power are on, while the stores are well stocked, while you have time to think and talk to people (notably your health providers), try going online to find emergency guides and check lists, which are common and common sense in places like California and Florida. Click here to see Virginia’s guide and here for one from Baltimore County.

They will help you plan, so you don’t get caught short. You can start by talking among your loved ones to assess your preparedness, including how you will keep in touch and get together if you might not be in the same spot when a crisis begins. Do you all know how to contact each other, even in bad situations? Do you have up to date contacts for each other and a relay system in case local communications fail and you need to call someone out of the area? Do you have meet-up spots and know escape routes for a variety of difficult situations?

If you have loved ones under care, do you know if, say, their nursing homes or hospitals or clinics have emergency plans and what your role might be in an emergency? In recent times, it feels as if there has been a big increase in the instances when health facilities have needed to be evacuated due to an array of natural menaces, including hurricanes, wildfires, and now, frigid weather.

Do you have prescription drugs you and your loved ones will need in sufficient supply in case disaster strikes? Do you have in a safe, accessible place your important documents like your medical records, your health directive, and important information on your finances?

Do you have a few days’ worth of food and water — supplies that you check regularly to ensure they stay fresh and adequate? You know about best practices in food and potable water safety, so you don’t make yourself or your loved ones sick by eating or drinking unsafe supplies?

Do you have plentiful flashlights and batteries, including for medical devices, cell phones, and a small AM and FM radio, maybe a portable TV, and other vital equipment? Is your first-aid kit stocked and handy?

Do you have gloves, other warm clothes, blankets, and plastic sheeting stashed somewhere? Have you got basic tools handy?

Don’t create more problems with emergency actions

Do you know where the gas and water mains and shut off valves might be in your home or apartment? Do you know where the fuse box is and the electrical shut-off might be? Do you have at the ready a fire extinguisher or materials to put out a fire?

Alas, too many people put themselves in harm’s way during tough times. They may turn to fuel-burning space heaters, using these — dangerously — in closed, confined spaces where they can cause fires or debilitating and deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, cases of which have spiked during the current freeze. (You do have fresh batteries in your home CO and fire detectors, right?) Consumers also may rely on plug-in heaters if their homes have electricity and other means of keeping warm fail. Too many of these devices, especially if they are cheap, foreign made, or old, may lack switches so they shut off when they tip — and set off blazes.

If you’ve got a fireplace that you think you might use in a jam, are you sure it is safe and that it ventilates correctly? It’s unwise to use the kitchen stove or oven to stay warm, and it can be a risky idea to camp in a vehicle for heat. You do keep that car or truck in running order, and it has its own stock of emergency supplies in it, correct?

By the way, if you’re thinking you’re a step ahead because you’ve gone out and gotten yourself a portable generator, please heed carefully the product cautions, both so, again, you don’t run a fuel-burning device in a confined space and you don’t create electrical hazards.

I could go on. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can inflicted on them by defective and dangerous products. The last thing anyone needs is to make their way through calamitous circumstance, only to suffer injury or death due to avoidable problems in their shelter, including burns, fires, explosions, or electrocution.

Emergency preparedness might seem a gloomy concern. It shouldn’t be. Instead, it can be a comfort knowing you have taken key steps to get ready for the natural disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, freezes, wildfires, earthquakes — that dominate the headlines more and more these days. A little preparation can go a long way, and we have much work to do to deal with the consequences of a rapidly changing world.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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