I have a bad habit. As a matter of fact, I have a lot of bad habits. One of them is worrying and anticipating trouble. When you are an infection control nurse, it’s your job to worry and anticipate and plan ahead for all those unforeseen infection control things that might happen, like a SARS patient showing up on your hospital doorstep. Unfortunately, I’ve carried it over into my home life, which isn’t always a good plan, but that’s another column.
Back to worrying and planning ahead. I just presented a day-long workshop in Kansas about Disaster Management. I had presented at a bioterrorism conference in Los Angeles last February and something worries me. Like I said, I’m a worrier. When I was in California, I received the impression from the nurses there that very little education had happened on bioterrorism and Smallpox. Now maybe they think no one would dare attack Hollywood because the stars live there. It seems to me that having that many stars in one place would make them a prime target. You could wipe out half the money in the United States. OK, I’m being tacky. But think about it.
Back to the point, little education seems to be happening for the nurses on a very important topic. During the Kansas workshop, I received the same story from the nurses there. I know in other states, most registered nurses received packets that included the CDC Smallpox education materials. That may not have happened in Kansas. I’m glad those other states are so far ahead, but here’s my concern.
What if the United States receives another terrorist or bioterrorism attack? Are we ready? I’ve read studies that claim the United States is not ready for bioterrorism. I’ve always kind of ignored the negative voices. After all, we have both the examples of the Murruh Building bombing in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center disaster in New York City. Surely we are ready. How could we not be ready? But if our front-line direct care givers are not ready, or even informed, how can we be prepared to face terrorism, or even natural disasters, in the United States? What is the answer? Is there an answer? It’s easy, in some states, to sit back and say we are ready. We have systems in place and our people know how to respond to Smallpox, SARS or explosions. We don’t have to worry. If the rest of the country isn’t ready, it’s not our fault.
That’s true as far as it goes. But we can encourage everyone we know to be prepared for anything. We can go to www.cdc.gov and www.fema.org and www.ready.gov and find out all the information about disasters and Smallpox and terrorism that we might need. We can prepare our families and friends, or at least help them find the information they need. As caregivers, we can’t remedy the ills of the entire world, nation or even our own state, but we can make our voices heard.
Be informed. Check the CDC Web site for information and FEMA and Homeland Security.
If you have a plan, you are ahead of the game. If your hospital or business or retirement center has a plan, you are safer. Be the squeaky wheel, nurses are good at that. Ask about the disaster plan where you work. Make a disaster plan for your family. Practice it like you do the family fire drill. When you hear about new emerging diseases like SARS, look them up on the internet, on reliable sites like the CDC. Be a resource for other people.
For your family, make an emergency supply kit with water, non perishable foods, flashlights, batteries and filter-type masks. Make a family communications plan that includes a plan to shelter in place, a plan to get away, with several options of destinations in different directions. Include family pets in the plan.
Even if it takes getting ready one person at a time -- our city, state and nation can be ready. We, as health care professionals, have a responsibility to be informed. If we are calm, patient and are prepared for the unexpected, we will be able to survive. If we can help those around us to meet the same goals, they will be safe and that will increase our safety. The circles can ripple out from each of us and form an interlocking grid of safety for our entire nation.
Yes, we can be ready.