Are you ready for hurricane season? Now is the time to get ready; hurricane season starts Sunday. The Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) encourages Louisiana residents to begin planning now for how they will protect their families, homes and property if tropical weather impacts the state.
Forecasters expect a slow year due to an El Nino weather pattern, which inhibits tropical activity, reducing the number of storms and the intensity of those storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts between eight and 13 named storms this Atlantic hurricane season, of which three to six could become hurricanes. NOAA says one or two of those hurricanes could be major storms, with Category 3, 4 or 5 wind speeds. The six month hurricane season begins June 1.
"It only takes one storm," said LDH Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "History teaches us that El Nino doesn't mean there will be no hurricanes. In fact, Andrew was one of the most destructive hurricanes in United States history, and it was the only storm to make landfall in 1992, an El Nino year. Hurricanes Audrey, Danny, Isidore and Lili also made landfall in Louisiana during El Nino years. There is no time like the present to get your home and your family ready in case tropical weather threatens our state. You should also talk to members of your extended family, your friends and your neighbors about what their plans are in the event of severe weather or an evacuation to make sure that they will be okay."
Louisiana residents should make sure that their preparedness plans take into account any special medical needs members of their family may have, including if family members will need electricity to power medical equipment like oxygen tanks, what particular dietary needs members of the family may have and how to ensure that family members have access to prescriptions and other medicines.
State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said, "You should consider your own health and the special medical needs of anyone in your family when making a plan for hurricane season. Ask yourself how you will function if you do not have power at your home and consider where you will go if it is not safe for you to stay in your house. Keep your prescriptions filled and necessary medication and supplies on hand so that you have what you need if tropical weather does come. There are simple, common sense actions that you can take now to take responsibility for your health and well-being, and that of your family. If you wait until the last minute, you will be competing for limited resources, and may place everyone at higher risk."
Additionally, LDH encourages residents to keep important health information on hand and to bring it with them if they have to leave their homes. Information about medical conditions, prescription needs and how to get in touch with their doctors will be useful in the event that members of the public are evacuated from their homes. There are online applications that can help people compile and store this information.
LDH also encourages 24-hour residential health care facilities to ready themselves for disaster response. Facilities should begin testing their generators, procuring fuel tanks and refueling them, ensuring contracts for evacuation and sheltering are in place. In many cases, these preparations are required in a facility's license. LDH reminds medical institutions that Medical Special Needs Shelters are not to be used as a primary option for their evacuation plans.
LOUISIANA VOLUNTEERS NEEDED
LDH also reminds the public of the need for volunteers to support the state in the event of a disaster, when both medical and non-medical assistance is required to support mass evacuation and sheltering efforts.
"Volunteers are the backbone of our response to emergencies like hurricanes," said J.T. Lane, Assistant Secretary for Public Health. "Any comprehensive emergency response needs a robust volunteer system to address any manpower gaps that directly result from the disaster."
Louisiana Volunteers in Action (LAVA) is LDH's volunteer management program. Anyone interested in lending a helping hand including doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, drivers, direct support staff, etc., can sign up with LAVA at www.lava.dhh.louisiana.gov.
More than 5,900 volunteers are in the system and may be called out during crises to assist. They have assisted during several recent hurricanes and during H1N1 flu season and have also been utilized during Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl to supplement emergency medical care.
During a hurricane, LAVA volunteers may be assigned to help at a Medical Special Needs Shelter or at the state's bus triage operation. Non-medical volunteers may be asked to feed patients or perform clerical tasks, while medical volunteers will be involved in direct patient care.
Residents can get information about how to prepare for disasters online from the following agencies:
- LDH's Emergency Preparedness Page: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/subhome/17
- Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Get A Gameplan campaign: GetAGameplan.org
- Federal Emergency Management Agency's preparedness page: Ready.gov
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emergency information: http://emergency.cdc.gov/