Bioterrorism and Disaster Education and Awareness: Are You Prepared?
By: Jamie Black
As your family sits around the television in the living room, you share a laugh while watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. Then from outside, you hear a thunderous boom that freezes everyone in their seats. With quizzical looks upon your children’s faces, you and your husband exchange glances and know you share the same thought—that ominous sound which disrupted your peaceful night was a bomb. Trying to keep a straight face, you tell your children to go to their rooms while “Mommy and Daddy go see what is happening.” Then as you both cross the threshold of the front door, you see neighbors littering the sidewalks- gazing down the street towards downtown, with hands barely hiding gaping mouths. In your van windows you see the reflection of red and orange sparks surrounding a great cloud of smoke rising up from the tree line that looks down upon the city. Horrific thoughts come to mind as you think about your sister who works at a law firm downtown—is she safe? What about the rest of the town… will there be another bomb? Your husband brings you back to reality when he hands you the phone. It’s your Emergency Services Program Manager at the Red Cross. They need you at the chapter to be briefed about the explosion downtown. With that, the fear and anticipation perceived on the faces of her friends and neighbors became her own.The actions of this young volunteer will undoubtedly shape the future of her community; and if by chance, unknowingly inspire other community members to better prepare themselves for when a disaster strikes. You never know what it could be next… severe storms, train derailments, massive flooding or even worse—a biological attack. We never want to consider our peaceful and happy communities being the focus of bioterrorism; but in reality, it could happen. What does bioterrorism even mean?
Actually, bioterrorism can be represented by an array of events—including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (or CBRNE). The act of terrorist groups or individuals employing one of these methods in attacking our nation is why we call it bioterrorism. Unfortunately, some of these attacks could go unnoticed for days, or even weeks. Some examples of CBRNE events could include: chemical spills causing traffic disruptions or effects on our groundwater, an incident at a nuclear power plant, aerosolized chemical or biological agents, deliberate food poisoning, an explosion that leads to a large-scale evacuation or even a naturally occurring disease outbreak. Disaster events that we may be more familiar with often involve severe weather and the works of Mother Nature. Whether you face the torrential rains and high-sustained winds of a hurricane or the out-of-control carnage of a wildfire, there is one fact that reigns true for all disasters—YOU have the power to be prepared.
Both natural and human-caused disasters can occur at anytime, anywhere—what should you do to avoid falling victim to a disaster? There are three simple steps the Red Cross encourages to conquer this conundrum: Get a Kit, Make a Plan and Be Informed.
In your easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit you should include items that you could use at home or could take with you in case of an evacuation. The most important items that should be included are:
• Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Multi-purpose tool
• Copies of personal documents
• Cell phone (with charger)
• Family and emergency contact
• Extra cash
• Map of the area
• Emergency blanket
The next step in preparing yourself for disaster is to make a plan. You should identify the responsibilities for each member of your household and plan to work together as a team. In case you are separated during an emergency, you should have two pre-designated places outside your home where you could meet. You should also choose an out-of-area emergency contact to inform them of your well-being during a disaster. During your planning, you should also map out evacuation routes, as well as potential alternate routes in case of impassable roads. Lastly if you have pets, consider researching pet-friendly hotels/motels or a family friend they could stay with in case of an emergency.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of disaster preparedness is remaining informed about the situation. You should identify in advance how local authorities will notify you during a disaster and how you will get information—whether it is through local radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio station/channel. If during a disaster someone in your community is injured or becomes unresponsive, it would be critical to their survival to have knowledge of CPR and First Aid procedures. Courses in both CPR and First Aid are offered by your local chapter of the American Red Cross. So be proactive and take a class—you could save a life!
Returning home from a day of endless frantic phone calls and media rumors buzzing around command center, the young volunteer turns on to her street—thinking of all the questions her family has waiting for her. She drives past her neighbors’ homes and sees families gathered around the televisions, hoping for answers. Another elderly neighbor sits on his porch swing, rocking back and forth to the hum of news updates coming across his radio. Seeing the members of her community listening and watching for information brings her a sense of comfort. Her friends had taken her advice and prepared themselves for when a disaster would strike. Instead of entering into a state of confusion and panic, these people had taken the appropriate steps to becoming disaster-ready and preparing themselves physically and mentally for the aftermath of a disaster event. The only question that remains is, are you prepared?Don’t be a victim. Be Aware. Be Prepared.