Preparing for Hurricane Rita

Dr. Donna Gaffney
Associate Professor of Nursing, Seton Hall University
Friday, September 23, 2005; 2:00 PM

Dr. Donna Gaffney , an associate professor of Nursing at Seton Hall University and an expert in crisis preparedness for hospitals and health care workers, was online Friday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. ET to address how hospitals should improve their responses to all hazards and how the "average person" can best prepare themselves to get the assistance and care they need in a crisis. Gaffney is also is coordinating an effort to send Seton Hall student nurses to the "front lines" as Red Cross relief workers.

The transcript follows.

____________________ Some useful Web sites: Key Facts About Hurricane Readiness

Prevent Illness after a Hurricane

Hurricane Preparedness Tips.


Laurel, Md.: The twin hurricanes have brought out people's desire to help and their fear of rising prices; prompting many to want to assist in any way they can except financially.

Is there much an average citizen can do to assist in an emergency except donate money or maybe blood?

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Hello Laurel, MD...your question is an example of the great compassion and concern that people are feeling for those affected by Hurricane Katrina (and now Rita). The Red Cross has local chapters all over the country in many communities. In addition to monetary donations they need people to help prepare for disaster response. You can call your local chapter and ask how you can offer your time and talent, they will be most appreciative. In addition to the Red Cross, there are other groups as well.


Arlington, Va.: I think it's a good idea to have a backpack filled with items you need in case you have to leave your home immediately (like in less than five minutes). In fact, I just packed one last night and it sits in my front closet. What items do you think should be in this backpack?

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Hello Arlington (and a prepared Arlington, I might add). This is a great question and one that everyone should be thinking about. The Web sites I have posted on this chat room are excellent resources for you. These "go bags" can be filled with such items as prescriptions, important papers (insurance cards, etc). Here are some ideas from the CDC, as you can see it may take more than a backpack!

- Several clean containers for water, large enough for a 3-5 day supply of water (about five gallons for each person).

- A 3-5 day supply of non-perishable food.

- A first aid kit and manual.

- A battery-powered radio, flashlights, and extra batteries.

- Sleeping bags or extra blankets.

- Water-purifying supplies, such as chlorine or iodine tablets or unscented, ordinary household chlorine bleach.

- Prescription medicines and special medical needs.

- Baby food and/or prepared formula, diapers, and other baby supplies.

- Disposable cleaning cloths, such as "baby wipes" for the whole family to use in case bathing facilities are not available.

- Personal hygiene supplies, such as soap, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, etc.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Dr. Gaffney!

If we can't adequately evacuate a city with a few days warning (and the images of a previous storm still fresh in everyones' heads), how can we be at all confident that any of our emergency evacuation plans would work for something more surprising (earthquake, terrorist attack)? Are we doomed to continually repeat mistakes, no matter who is in charge at the local, state or federal level?

I am not one prone to knee-jerk reactions, but I have to admit that right now I am more scared than I've been since 9/11/01, seeing that we've learned nothing when it comes to emergency planning and execution. Are my fears unfounded? Please tell me they are and why.

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Hi Brooklyn..

Your question is probably on everyone's mind. Remember that many of the thoughts and reactions we are feeling in these past few weeks are due to our "witnessing" these events in our living rooms, it is natural to feel "vulnerable" when all we see are the problems. Yet, we also need to consider the tremendous efforts and work that is being done that we are not hearing about.


Vienna, Va.: Is the proposed rule about mandatory evacuation of pets a joke? I can imagine a cartoon where two army rescuers in a helicopter are shouting down to someone stranded in a flooded area saying: "Sorry, there is no room. Ms. Johnson had to bring her cats"

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Hello Vienna-

The question about pets tugs at our heartstrings, but the best way to answer that question and any others that concern animals is to call your local government office (town hall, etc) they will connect you with the people that can best advise you. There are also good Web sites for the SPCA and the HSUS(Human Society of the US). Emergency Plans and Supply Kits.



Fairfax, Va.: Watching the Rita evacuation is scary. It's is easy to remember what traffic was like here on 9-11-01 and to imagine how much worse it would be if a full evacuation of the Metro area were attempted. It makes no sense to try to leave for West Virginia after a chemical attack, dirty bomb or whatever. My 90 year-old mother survived the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, and has a disaster supply kit, food and water in the house for a week, intends to tough out whatever comes and won't leave her home. I've made arrangements for a CNA to stay with her during the day when I'm at work, and overnight if I can't get home. Is there anything else I can do?

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Hello Farifax, VA: You have certainly made a number of very important arrangements for your mother. You may want to keep copies of her medication prescriptions, scan and save important documents(and then send them to yourself- Keeping them on a server allows you to retrieve them when you need to). Post any instructions, phone numbers and other information in your mother's home (covered in plastic or tape and written with permanent marker) Make sure you also work out a communication plan with the CNA (contact numbers of relatives, neighbors, etc)

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Sorry for the typo, Hello Fairfax


Maryland: How would hospital evacuate critical care patients in a rushed emergency? Wouldn't that just increase mortality rates?

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Every hospital has an emergency plan in the event of a disaster. These plans are reviewed/monitored by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), state governments and the American Hospital Association in addition to other specialty organizations. Plans are developed based on a number of factors and tailored to each hospital and the types of patients they treat.


Re: Pet evacuation: Pets should be allowed on evacuations. Mind you, I don't like animals, and Fluffy and Rover aren't a big deal to me. However, the truth is that many people will not leave their pets behind to starve, drown, etc in a natural disaster. So the only way for to get these people out in time is to let them bring Fluffy and Rover along for the ride.

I couldn't care less about pets, but I'd prefer that their owners survive.

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Good point...there are many reasons why people decide that they can not evacuate. Being aware of these reasons will help all of us understand how to best protect humans!


Dr. Donna Gaffney: Keeping healthy in the aftermath of a natural disaster is a priority,the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands and wash them often. The Web site posted here is very helpful for everyone in your household (and good practice before flu season as well!)If CLEAN water is not available, use an alcohol based hand cleaning gel. Buy small containers and give one to everyone in your family, keep them at home and at work. Always wash your hands before you eat or prepare food, after going to the bathroom, changing diapers,caring for someone who is sick, tending a cut, touching animals and handling garbage. Here is a helpful hint, if you use a paper towel to dry your hands, grab the paper towel first, dry your hands and then use the towel to turn off the faucet.



Dr. Donna Gaffney: The key elements for being prepared are communication and information. Gather information before there is an emergency. Look at the Web sites posted here and make plans for your own household. Check in with family members who may live in other communities. Use the current events of the past few weeks to talk to children about being prepared(those living in your home and those who are grown and out of the house) Think about a communication plan as well. Distribute contact information to friends and family. For work, be sure to have contact information about your staff and co-workers.

Remember that emergencies and disasters have a psychological effect on all us, talk to your support people. Don't expect to be "superman" or "superwoman," this is a time for everyone to come together and help each other.

Thanks so much for joining me this afternoon, your questions were great.

Take care of yourselves!



Silver Spring, Md.: For those looking for an active way to help, I've seen this announcement from several local community leaders on various mailing lists:

Contact: Bonnie Ayers, 240-777-6530

For Immediate Release: September 21, 2005

Volunteers Needed to Participate

In Emergency Preparedness Exercise

At Local Hospitals

Four hundred volunteers are needed to act as patients in an upcoming emergency preparedness exercise designed to help Montgomery County hospitals test their capacity to handle an influx of patients in an emergency.

The exercise will be held on September 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the following locations: Washington Adventist Hospital, Montgomery General Hospital, Holy Cross Hospital, Shady Grove Hospital and Kaiser Permanente.

The Montgomery County Hospital Collaborative for Emergency Preparedness will hold the exercise to test its ability to manage mass casualties (including special needs populations), provide decontamination, surge capability, and internal and external communications.

Parents may bring children (must be supervised). Refreshments will be provided, and a certificate of attendance, which can be used for Continuing Education, will also be provided.

The epic destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina points again to how important it is for every community to be prepared to react to emergencies,said Andrea Jolly, director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Center. Residents can help locally by participating in the exercise. It should be a great learning experience and fun for all, as well as being an opportunity to help your community prepare for a real-world event.

To volunteer, call 240-777-2600 or e-mail the Montgomery County Volunteer Center at and include name, phone number, street address, e-mail and hospital preference.

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Thanks so much for the information, I am sure many people will find it very helpful!


Maryland: Who's in charge of evacuating nursing homes? Are the operators solely responsible for mass evacuations or do they have to coordinate with hospitals?

Dr. Donna Gaffney: Nursing homes also have safety standards and disaster plans. If anyone has a family member in the hospital or nursing home, ask about their disaster plan!


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