With the federal government predicting an active or "extremely active" hurricane season, the Department of Health encourages Louisiana residents to begin planning now for how they will protect their homes, their families and their health if tropical weather impacts the state.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it expects between 13 and 20 named storms this Atlantic hurricane season, of which seven to 11 could become hurricanes. NOAA says three to six of those hurricanes could be major storms, with Category 3, 4 or 5 wind speeds. Non-governmental organizations also have predicted between 18 and 19 named tropical storms, with between 8 and 9 becoming hurricanes during this Atlantic Hurricane Season.
LDH Interim Secretary Kathy Kliebert said, "The experts agree that this hurricane season could be very active, which means 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. When it comes to preparing for storms, we're all in this together."
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, when a storm comes later."
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 health 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, etc., can sign up with LAVA at www.lava.dhh.louisiana.gov.
More than 5,700 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:
- DHH's Emergency Preparedness Page: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/emergency
- 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: emergency.cdc.gov/