By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
April 04, 2007
The smart-looking container of bandages and ointments got stripped of most of its contents when the kids' team needed to restock a first-aid kit. And the fire extinguisher shows suspicious signs of having sprung a leak.
Such is the state of family emergency preparedness in many households nearly six years after 9/11 - and despite several years of governmental reminders that homeland security should begin in the home.
A new survey done for the American Public Health Association points to a significant erosion of home readiness. Forty percent of a national survey of 925 adults said that although they had once taken steps to prepare for an emergency, they have let those arrangements lapse. Forty-six percent said they have no disaster supply kit.
And while 27 percent claimed to be ready for a public-health crisis, only 14 percent of respondents said they have a three-day supply of food, water and medication on hand.
However, about half of those surveyed think that severe weather, or an outbreak of infectious disease such as pandemic flu, is likely to strike their area to an extent that health care and food supplies are affected.
Several million Americans along the Gulf Coast learned the necessity of having an evacuation kit when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the region in 2005.
The federal government annually declares, on average, at least 30 places around the country a disaster zone. However, not all such designations are hurricane-scale.
Most of the time, disasters are small enough that if people can hang on for just a few days, help can make it in from outside. But Katrina's aftermath showed that's not always the case.
What really worries health officials is a disease outbreak on a national scale, like a repeat of the flu pandemic that swept the nation and the world in 1918-19.
Experts say as much as 30 percent of the population fell seriously ill that fall and winter, and well over half a million died. In towns and cities across the country, life came to a standstill, even at the height of a world war.
Schools were closed and public gatherings - even funerals and church services - were banned. Hospitals and morgues filled to overflowing. Shops, factories and transport were crippled by workers laid low or simply too afraid to venture out.
For all the advances in medical technology, if a similarly contagious flu or other disease were to hit the United States today, government plans call for much the same sort of quarantine and isolation measures. But there would also be efforts to contain the disease with vaccines and drugs.
Two new analyses of responses to the 1918 flu in different cities, published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore the importance of such actions. All cities imposed the same kind of restrictions on public movement. But leaders in places like Boston and Philadelphia waited several weeks into the outbreak for most steps, and suffered some of the highest mortality rates in the country -- more than 13,000 died in Philadelphia alone.
By contrast, St. Louis' peak mortality rate was only an eighth of Philadelphia's, mostly because officials there acted within two days of the first reported flu cases. Other places had good hygiene plans in place early on, but relaxed them too soon, allowing new waves of illness to spread, the reports said.
What's clear from all this is that Americans used to hitting the grocery store, neighborhood bistro, fast-food emporium or drugstore on a frequent basis need to consider how they would manage if the mall lights went dim.
And it's especially important for anyone with chronic illness or disability, or with young children in their home, to have an emergency kit and an emergency plan if waiting out an emergency at home isn't an option.
Here are some Web sites to help you gauge your readiness and learn about emergency planning:
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions