Prepare Yourself: Empowering Communities to Respond to Emergencies

By Amanda Lubit, DVM, MS, MPH, NACCHO Senior Program Analyst


CDC 2016 Preparedness Month Infographic, click to original.

In commemoration of National Preparedness Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is highlighting five themes for each week of September, emphasizing the various aspects of effective preparedness. Each week, the NACCHO Preparedness team is authoring a blog to promote the theme and provide local health departments and other partner agencies with context and resources to share with the communities they serve. The fifth and final weekly theme is “Prepare Yourself.” Make sure to also read our first four posts highlighting the themes of “Prepare Globally,” “Prepare to Respond,” “Prepare Locally,” and “Prepare Together.”


Disasters can occur anywhere and at any time, often without warning. Whether it is a flood, chemical spill or terrorist attack, any type of emergency causes disruption in affected communities that lasts for days, weeks, months, or even years. Although the federal government and organizations at the local and state level do provide assistance in case of emergencies, their staff may also be affected by the disaster or may not be able to reach people in need immediately. With aid often taking days to arrive, it is imperative that individuals prepare themselves ahead of time to ensure sustaining their basic needs such as shelter, food, water, sanitation and first aid.

Local health departments (LHDs) should play an integral role in strengthening overall community resilience and individual preparedness when addressing disasters. To begin, LHD staff can engage in outreach to provide education and increase awareness of disaster risks for the families and individual residents making up the communities they serve. They can also provide people with guidance on how best to prepare, directing them to the available tools and community resources at their disposal. LHD staff can promote engagement in preparedness education and activities by highlighting it as an opportunity for individuals to reduce the impact that disastrous events can have on their families, neighbors and entire community.

LHDs should focus on three key steps when training community members on effectively preparing themselves for an emergency situation. The first step is being informed about which events are most likely to impact a particular community, and which actions can be taken to mitigate the dangers brought by those particular events, including how and where to get information from local authorities during an emergency.

The second step is to create a disaster plan that maps out what to do in case of emergency. For example, families should schedule a time to discuss what each member will need to do in the event of an emergency occurring while he or she is at home, work, or school. Next it is essential to establish a family meeting place, and most importantly all family members must practice executing the plan on a routine basis. Individuals may need to create separate plans addressing specific settings such as home, school, workplace, or business, and family members with access and functional needs such as individuals with disabilities, young children, older adults, or pets.

The third step is to put together a disaster kit that contains up to three days’ worth of emergency supplies for all family members, including pets, in case emergency response personnel are unable to provide assistance for an extended period of time.

Beyond helping the general public to prepare themselves, LHDs are also in a position to improve protection for the most vulnerable populations in the communities they serve. Through partnership with local organizations and leaders, LHD staff can identify individuals or groups who are most vulnerable to disasters and develop plans for engaging them in preparedness activities. One particularly useful resource for LHDs to ensure inclusive and accessible emergency planning and response community education is the Whole Community Approach. Developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), this document provides an integrative strategy bringing together public, private and non-profit agencies with the general public to identify the preparedness needs of different ethnic and faith-based groups as well as those with disabilities and access and functional needs. In this model,  residents, community and business leaders, emergency managers, first responders, and government officials work together to strengthen the resilience of their communities. Seven diverse projects conducted across the country have demonstrated the potential this approach has for empowering local communities to protect themselves from disaster.

A wealth of additional resources exist to help guide communities in preparing for an emergency, many of which can be found in NACCHO’s Toolbox:

  • Gear Up. Get Ready. It Can Happen! – a website that provides resources and materials that detail the planning process, resources used, and lessons learned from catastrophic events. It also provides support guides to assist with engaging youth, schools, private sector, and those with functional needs and disabilities.
  • Preparedness through Linking All Neighbors (P.L.A.N.) – a 10-step approach to emergency preparedness through building social capital, partnerships and collaboration in the community.
  • Vulnerable and At-Risk Populations Resource Guide – a guide to assist in planning for “whole community” emergency preparedness that integrates vulnerable populations.

As a reminder, there is still time for local health officials, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers, and other partner stakeholders to highlight their various preparedness-related efforts and community engagement events facilitated throughout September’s National Preparedness Month. LHDs and MRC Units are highly encouraged to take the NACCHO Preparedness Pledge, participate in our National Preparedness Month Photo Contest, and submit an abstract for the upcoming 2017 NACCHO Preparedness Summit.

2 thoughts on “Prepare Yourself: Empowering Communities to Respond to Emergencies

  1. Devon G
    September 30, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    We have two disaster kits – one for the home and one for the car. You never know when disaster will strike or where you will be when it does.

    1. Anastasia Sonneman
      September 30, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Thank you for sharing Devon! You make excellent points, the location or time of a public health emergency or disaster is never certain, which is a great reason to be over prepared. We hope your fellow community members are following your example.

      We hope to hear more of your comments and reactions on our future blog posts. In the meantime make sure to sign up for our monthly eNewsletter digest, which compiles the previous month’s most useful posts from the entire Preparedness Brief Blog into one convenient email, sent out the second Wednesday of every month. Follow this link to subscribe:

      -The NACCHO Preparedness Team

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