By Dr. Jaren Trost Senior Medical Director and Rheumatologist, Optum New Mexico
New Mexico residents and visitors to the state this summer should be on guard for extreme weather conditions and flood warnings from the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Drought-stricken forests can fuel record-breaking fires, as we saw last year with the largest fire in state history, the Hermits Peak/Calf Creek Fire that devastated more than 341,000 acres, destroyed homes, and made national news.
Fires of this size contribute to heavy particulate build-up, leading to poor air quality. They also contribute to storm build-up, which leads to rapid firestorms, lightning, and downpours – so much concentrated rain that the rush of water won’t soak in, but will stay on top of the land, causing flash flooding. More forest destruction leaves the exposed topsoil vulnerable to washouts and landslides, especially with the advent of monsoon season starting in June. As a result, people are killed every year in city arroyos, foothills, mountain roads and trails. Last summer saw too many tragedies, and we should prepare for more of the same this year.
Emergency situations and evacuations are often challenging for Americans 65 and older, especially for those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. In addition, limited mobility, impaired hearing or vision, and age-related cognitive decline can make it more difficult for seniors to deal with potentially deadly emergencies. Having a plan, and expecting the unexpected, are vital to the health and safety of older New Mexicans and their families.
Unfortunately, the majority of people do not have an emergency plan.
Are You Ready?
The No. 1 thing that everyone should know about disaster preparedness is: Don’t wait for the disaster to happen before you prepare – make a plan! Work together with family, neighbors and friends to decide where to meet and how to contact each other in an emergency. Review escape routes from your home, school and business, away from your neighborhood to safe locations in your region.
Strengthen families and help build community by sharing and practicing your plans – and don’t forget pets! Always include primary contacts and always ask: “How do we stay connected, calm and safe during a crisis?”
Most emergencies come with little warning. Access to resources is likely to be limited or completely unavailable, so now is the time to prepare your emergency kit, or “go bag,” and have it close at hand. It should be portable and waterproof. In addition to personal items, prescription medications, important documents (insurance cards, medication list and care plans, list of allergies, etc.), phone numbers, device plugs, and back-up power sources, make sure you include the following in your kit for adults and children:
- Enough water and medical supplies to last at least three days (at least one gallon per person and per pet).
- Though water is more critical to survival than food, try to stock up on energy bars, nutrition drinks, and canned foods that don’t require refrigeration, water, cooking or special preparation. Always consider dietary restrictions, food allergies, and sensitive medical conditions like diabetes. Also include a manual can opener and eating utensils.
- For infants, be sure to include formula, food, vaccination records, diapers, and similar necessities.
- For a child with special needs, be sure to pack a copy of his or her care plan (electronically and on paper in a waterproof bag), special dietary foods and supplies, an extra medical alert bracelet or necklace, identification, and an item or toy that will calm or entertain the child.
- For seniors and people with medical conditions in particular:
- Make sure you have an emergency supply of critical prescriptions, at-home medical devices like blood sugar monitors, EPI pens, prescription and reading glasses, contact lenses and contact lens solution, wheelchairs, walkers, hearing aids with extra batteries, oxygen including model numbers and vender, etc.
- Some medical conditions may require packing nasal cannulas, catheters and syringes.
- Don’t forget food and water for pets, as well as their vaccination records.
- Basic first-aid supplies should be included in every go bag:
- Tweezers and scissors
- Non-latex gloves
- Waterproof bandages and gauze
- Antibiotic cream
- Anti-bacteria wipes
- Blood test strips
Update your kit every six months and keep food, water and medicines fresh. Don’t forget basics like warm clothes, rain gear, flashlights and fully charged batteries. Prepare as well by learning first-aid, life-saving and self-help skills before an emergency. You never know what’s in store.
Planning Saves Lives
Aside from fires and monsoon floods, there are other potential disasters waiting to happen here in New Mexico, ranging from hazardous materials incidents and pandemics to explosions and power outages.
Natural and man-made disasters, health emergencies and unexpected evacuations can be perilous for anyone at any age. Though every situation is different, one thing remains the same: planning is a critical step in building confidence and outlining how you and your loved ones will stay safe in an emergency.