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  • Pandemics Aplenty: 5 Tips to Staying Healthy

    Look what’s been in the news the last month:

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found possible mistakes in handling and shipping of diseases like plague and encephalitis in military facilities. (Including one where I used to work.)

    An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease sickened at least 45 and killed 9 at a Quincy, Ill., nursing home.

    Two cases of plague were found in Yosemite National Park.

    The first Ebola case in two weeks popped up in Sierra Leone.

    New Delhi, India, is struggling with its worst outbreak of dengue fever in five years, with 1,900 cases reported and at least 11 dead.

    Here’s the scoop, though: all of these illnesses put together don’t infect as many people or cause as much economic damage as regular, old, seasonal influenza.

    H1N1 Masks - PandemicNow, imagine that during the regular, old, influenza season, a new strain pops up that’s unexpected and particularly contagious. It spreads rapidly, with cases popping up in many countries within weeks. There’s no vaccine. Some schools and businesses close. Oh, wait, you don’t have to imagine. That happened in 2009-2010, with a strain of H1N1 influenza.

    Here are five steps to prepare for an influenza, or other, pandemic.


    Get supplies

    A pandemic can last for months. The 2009 influenza pandemic began in April. During the next year, numbers of new cases looked like a wave: rising and falling, with a peak in October 2009. recommends storing food and water for two weeks, in case you can’t get to a store because of illness or if stores run out of supplies. And, hey, you’ll be prepared for other types of emergencies too.


    Get medicines

    Pharmacy - PandemicSome of my kids take medicine for illness-induced asthma. But they only take when they’re ill. The last time my son needed it, I couldn’t find any, because we hadn’t used it for a few months.

    Check all prescriptions regularly, whether you use them regularly or not, to ensure a continuous supply during an emergency, encourages the CDC.

    Get copies of your hospital, pharmaceutical and other medical records. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an online tool, Blue Button, to help you find them.

    Also, keep nonprescription drugs and other health supplies stocked. These can include pain relievers, fluids with electrolytes, cough and cold medicines and face masks.


    Get communicating suggests you talk to family members and other loved ones about how you’ll care for each other in case of illness. Also, talk to neighbors, employers and schools about plans for staying home if family members are ill.


    Get vaccinated

    The CDC prefers you get the seasonal flu vaccine yearlyVaccine - Pandemic, before October, though you can get it any time during flu season. It takes about two weeks for a vaccine to be effective.

    Influenza vaccines last about a year and vary in effectiveness depending on a lot of factors like flu strains and age. The CDC still recommends them, though, because even if the vaccine doesn’t match well with one strain, like the 2009 H1N1, it will match well with others. Also, even a poor match may reduce flu symptoms.


    Get healthy habits

    This is the hard one. It’s not as easy to remember to get plenty of exercise and sleep, to eat healthy and drink plenty of healthy fluids when you’re feeling OK.

    It’s easier when you or a family member is ill to remember to wash your hands often and cover your mouth and nose when you cough. All these techniques might keep you from getting ill during a pandemic.

    H1N1 is still around. It’s now considered a regular seasonal virus and is included in the vaccine.

    But others are out there. And it’s time to start preparing. Peak flu season usually runs between October and May.


    - Melissa


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Pandemic

  • California Fears Flooding in El Niño Winter

    In a cruel, ironic twist of fate, California fears a very wet and rainy winter season.

    El Niño is expected to bring bucketloads of water to California, but that's not necessarily a good thing. After being in an intense drought for four years, one would think the thought of rain – and a lot of it – is a wonderful thing for the water-wanting state. But that’s not how the world works, is it? According to Emergency Management, “too much rain coming down too fast could sink low-lying communities,” of which there are plenty.

    El Niño floods thingsUnfortunately, that’s what happens when it pours rain over parched ground. The soil is just too hard, too closed-off to water to allow much at all in. Water will just collect on the surface, traveling the route of least resistance. This could mean your home will get flooded, and you can almost guarantee the streets will turn to rivers. California most definitely needs rain, but this might be a little bit counterproductive when it comes to beating the drought.

    Just one wet winter won’t do the trick, either. describes in more detail what is needed for the drought to subside. For starters, one doctoral student stated that California needs “several consecutive wet years, and specifically several where substantial snowpack persists into spring so that it can slowly replenish our groundwater aquifers and provide long-term relief from drought.”

    For that to happen, California would need to receive more than double their annual precipitation this winter. The chances of that happening? Not good. Considering it’s never happened before, that kind of tells you what the state is up against.

    Despite not curing the drought, it will at least be some sort of relief to the folks there. However, watch out for flooding.

    The best time to start preparing, of course, is now. Throughout the Bay Area, trees are being trimmed, creek beds are being shored up, and other preventative measures are being taken so that when the storms do come, things won’t be as bad as they could be.

    Likewise, today is the day you should start preparing for floods and heavy rain. This goes for you folks not living in California, too. Just because El Niño and floods are expected in California doesn’t mean you won’t get any flooding in your neck of the woods, too.

    One thing to consider going in to this wet time of year is flood insurance. The time to act for that really is now, because flood insurance doesn’t activate until 30 days after you get it. So, if a storm is forecast and then the floods rise up to your door, the time for getting insurance is well past.

    Tree Trimming for El NiñoFollowing the example of the Bay Area workers wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. They’re going around taking care of trees, gutters, storm drains, and other things before they become a problem. You can do the same. Take a look at your home. How flood proof is it? Do you have sandbags to keep the water back should your street start flooding? Are the gutters on your home cleared of leaves, twigs, and other debris? Are your trees trimmed so they won’t crack and fall on your home in a strong storm? These are just a few things to watch out for.

    Floods can also cause a danger while driving. When you come to a flooded street, the National Weather Service says “it is NEVER safe to drive or walk into flood waters.” Their motto is Turn Around Don’t Drown, and that should be your motto, too.

    It is fortunate that California will be receiving more moisture, but that will come with a cost. You know it’s coming, so act now and start preparing. You don’t want to be caught high and dry (so to speak), especially when you have the time to get ready.


    How are you prepared for El Niño?


    Disaster_Blog_Banner El Niño

  • 4 Hurricane Myths You Need to Know

    Hurricane Myths - Inland Flooding Bridge Collapsed on I-10 (source: Desert Sun)

    A few months ago, former Hurricane Dolores brought wild, wet weather to parched southern California and Arizona. A bridge collapsed from flooding on Interstate 10 about fifty miles from Arizona. A resulting crash injured the driver of the pickup. Eleven sites in the Los Angeles area reported record rainfall – admittedly only a bit more than a third of an inch. Still, that was enough to cause closings and damage. Rain showers caused the Los Angeles Angels’ first rainout in 20 years.

    Here’s the fun part. The closest the center of the storm got to California was 300 miles west of Baja. At the time, it was just a post-tropical low-pressure center – too weak to even be considered a tropical storm. What’s left of Dolores is causing flash flood watches into Nevada and could travel as far as the Four Corners area and southwest Colorado.


    Hurricane Myth 1

    One hurricane myth is that the most deadly part of a hurricane is the storm surge, according to a Mobile, Ala. TV station’s story on hurricane myths.

    It’s not. Inland flooding like that from Dolores’ storms is more deadly because people don’t realize how fast water is moving.


    Hurricane Myth 2

    Another is that homeowner’s insurance will cover flooding from a hurricane’s rising water.

    Homeowner’s insurance should cover damage if the roof blows off, but most policies don’t cover damage from flooding, said Chris Hackett, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, in a story for

    A separate policy is necessary, either through the National Flood Insurance Program or private flood insurance.

    Yet only 10 percent of Americans have flood insurance, according to a 2010 poll from the Insurance Information Institute.

    Hurricane Myths - New Flood PlanesFloodplains change. Fires destroy vegetation on hills and create landslide hazards. People build on former meadows, which increases runoff because water can’t soak into concrete. So a building could be in a floodplain though it wasn’t in one before. has a tool to show if a building is in a likely flood zone.


    Hurricane Myth 3

    Another myth is that outside a high risk flood area people don’t need flood insurance. In fact, almost a quarter of claims to the NFIP come from moderate-to-low risk areas for flood. Like those where storms from Dolores are meandering. Flood insurance is not only available in those areas; it’s cheaper, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency brochure.

    Let’s say these storms from Dolores damage a couple of buildings. The President must declare a major disaster area before most federal disaster assistance can come into play. Also, disaster assistance usually is a loan that must be paid back with interest. A U.S. Small Business Administration disaster home loan usually lasts 30 years. A $50,000 loan at 4 percent interest costs $240 per month during that period. The average NFIP premium, on the other hand, is about $500 per year, according to FEMA.

    NFIP flood insurance provides up to $250,000 worth of coverage for a home and $500,000 for a business. It can cover possessions up to $100,000, so renters can get just that coverage.

    It does not cover improvements to basements, like carpeting and painting, though the insurance will pay for equipment like a furnace in the basement. It also won’t cover property improvements outside a home, loss of business, or temporary housing.


    Hurricane Myth 4

    Oh, and one more hurricane myth. Hurricane insurance. The truth is - except in rare cases - flood insurance doesn’t kick in until 30 days after purchase. So buying it when the hurricane is bearing down probably won’t help.


    - Melissa


    Hurricane Myths

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