New York Academy of Medicine Launches Emergency Preparedness Tools

ON Sept. 10, the New York Academy of Medicine released a report and tools -- available at http://www.redefiningreadiness.net -- to help households, work places, schools and governments to anticipate and address problems they would face in emergencies.

The report, "With the Public's Knowledge, We Can Make Sheltering in Place Possible," is based on two years' work gathering the insights and experiences of nearly 2,000 people who live and work in four communities around the country. According to the academy, the document identifies unanticipated problems that currently make it neither feasible nor safe for many people to shelter in place. In conjunction with that report, the academy is releasing four "Shelter-in-Place Issue Sets" (http://www.redefiningreadiness.net/rrsip.html) to help members of households and organizations recognize and address their own vulnerabilities in these kinds of emergencies. Sheltering in place means staying inside whatever building you happen to be in -- a workplace, school, store or at home -- for a period of a few hours to several days in order to stay safe, even if that requires you to be separated from other family members.

"Sheltering in place is a very important protective strategy in situations ranging from dirty bombs, toxic explosions and chemical spills to much more common emergencies, like electrical blackouts and snowstorms," said Roz D. Lasker, MD, director of the academy's Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health and Division of Public Health, and lead author of the report.

The academy's main report states that the emergency preparedness instructions being given to people and organizations do not address many important sheltering-in-place issues. According to the academy:

  • The public is being instructed to keep a supply of food and water in their homes, and most keep their medications there as well. But in a shelter-in-place emergency, many people will not be at home and will need to take shelter in other buildings, so their home-supply of food, water or medicines won't be accessible.
  • The public is being told to identify places for family members to reunite in the event of an emergency. But those instructions don't address situations in which it might be unsafe to go to such a place, such as if you would have to go through a danger zone to get there.
  • While instructions describe how to identify and seal "safe rooms" in homes, schools and other buildings, they pay little attention to assuring that the rooms can accommodate the number of people who are likely to need shelter, provide them with breathable air and tolerable temperatures, or give them safe access to water, food, lavatories, telephones and medical supplies.
  • Schools have been preparing for emergencies that affect the school directly, but children are also at risk if their parents and other guardians need to shelter in place because of an emergency and no other adult is available to pick the children up or be at home with them after school.

"The disconnect between current instructions and the problems people face in shelter-in-place emergencies isn't surprising, since the public never had an opportunity to think about these situations in such detail before," Lasker said.

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