Ayanna V. Buckner, MD, MPH


October 07, 2009

In This Article


The significance of natural and man-made disasters has become increasingly apparent over the last several years. The threat of disaster poses complex public health challenges that require the involvement of healthcare professionals across specialties. Although clinicians are commonly aware of their potential role in the response to disasters, they may not be aware of their importance in preparedness activities with their patients. Most preparedness recommendations targeted at clinicians focus on their roles in health systems or institutions (eg, hospital, office, and clinic).[1,2,3] Few resources make specific recommendations regarding how clinicians could engage their patients in preparedness activities.

Despite years of federal and local government efforts to enhance personal preparedness, most US adults still have not made the most basic preparations for a potential evacuation. In the event of evacuation for a natural disaster with warning (such as a hurricane, flood, or wildfire), only 45% of US residents are prepared with the things that they will need for a safe evacuation, such as personal medications or a family emergency plan.[4] Many parents do not know the location to which their child would be evacuated as part of his or her school's disaster plan. These findings strongly suggest that far more work needs to be done to prepare for an unexpected emergency situation.[4] Because clinicians have regular, one-on-one access to patients and the opportunity to counsel them regarding their health and the health of their families, clinicians are well positioned to play a critical role in preparing their patients for natural and man-made disasters.

Community preparedness campaigns have been expanded to reach nearly 70% of the nation's population.[4] However, members of the public are looking for clear guidance in the area of emergency preparedness, and they want to be able to talk with someone before a disaster strikes. Many people prefer to consult someone with whom they have a relationship, such as their healthcare practitioner, than to talk with someone they do not know who works for their local government.[5]


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