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Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

Home Technical Guidelines Other Topics General Recommendations for the Population During Emergencies

General Recommendations for the Population During Emergencies

The extent of damage to people's health as a result of emergencies is directly linked to the preparations to handle foreseeable risks made by individuals, families, and communities. The recommendations submitted below seek to promote activities which make people aware of the fact that an emergency can occur at any time, and that it is therefore necessary to take preventive measures in order to minimize the immediate negative impact of such events.

Community, Family, and Individual Activities, Prior to an Emergency

Community Activities.

  • Investigate whether special programs for emergencies exist in your area; obtain a copy. Read it with care and identify preparation measures that you should take.
  • Disseminate the content and scope of the special program for emergency prevention, preparation, and mitigation.
  • Promote joint preparations for future emergencies within your neighborhood and community.
  • Determine whether the place where you live has been evaluated as to whether or not it constitutes a high-risk zone for natural or other disasters.
  • Promote the identification of places that can be designated for the establishment of temporary shelters during emergencies.
  • Verify that basic instructions are prepared, describing basic functions, measures, and preparations to be completed in order to face future emergencies.
  • Promote the designation of parties responsible for each fundamental function to be fulfilled for emergency preparations and care of the population.
  • Ensure the broad dissemination of information on danger zone ratings, possible temporary shelters, persons responsible for coordination during emergencies, and prevention measures to be carried out by individuals and families in order to conduct preparations on a timely basis.

Family and Individual Activities

With regard to your housing:

  • Determine whether your home is within an area that officials consider to be at risk.
  • Identify whether building materials and characteristics of your home are capable of withstanding a foreseeable emergency. In case of doubt, request the advisory services of agencies trained for this purpose.
  • Select the place designated as a temporary shelter for emergencies that is closest to your home.
  • Decide on the rallying point or temporary shelter closest to your home, and make sure it is known by your entire family and persons who would accompany you in the event of an emergency.
  • Ensure that this place is outside of the designated danger zone. Identify several possible paths to reach the places designated as possible temporary shelters, as well as places selected as family rallying points.

With regard to the people you would be with during an emergency:

  • Select one or more family members, companions, neighbors, or friends with whom to remain in contact and provide mutual support throughout any emergency.
  • Confirm that family members and companions know where to meet in the event of an emergency, and how to get there.
  • Discuss emergency plans with family members and close friends.

With regard to utensils and useful supplies for an emergency.

Prepare and always keep ready an emergency package or suitcase containing:

  • A change of clothes and personal effects to protect yourself from the elements (rain, heat, or cold, depending on the place and season).
  • A working portable radio, with batteries. ***
  • A flashlight, with batteries. ***
  • Enough extra batteries, preferably new, for the radio and flashlight. **
  • Food that does not require refrigeration, preferably ready-to-eat and in small containers to avoid waste. Include baby food if needed.
  • Bottled water.**
  • Water purification tablets.*
  • Matches. *
  • Can openers, forks and knives, napkins, and disposable plates.
  • Suntan lotion.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary napkins, diapers for children and adults, as needed, etc.).
  • Medicines you have been prescribed; ensure that you have enough supplies to treat your condition, and that you include the physician's prescription.*
  • Latex condoms, water-soluble lubricants, and contraceptives.
  • Personal identification documents for family members who would travel together.*
  • Copy of a key to your house.
  • Enough money* to defray basic expenditures during the emergency; remember that if electricity gets cut off, money cannot be withdrawn from bank accounts.
  • Map of the city or region.*

* Store in water proof containers.

** Make sure you periodically renew both the food and the batteries.

*** Periodically check that your radio and flashlight are in working order.

  1. Wrap the articles individually in plastic bags and place them in the suitcase; ideally it, too, should be water proof, or stored in a plastic bag. Make sure that you can lift and carry your suitcase. Should it be too heavy, review the contents, and leave out items that are not indispensable.
  2. Check to see whether the contents of your emergency suitcase meet the recommendations made by local officials and agencies in charge of coordinating the emergency response.
  3. Make sure you have on hand all medicines and equipment you need to treat any current illness or physical limitation (For example: medications for asthma, insulin and syringes for diabetes mellitus, dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, humidifiers, canes, crutches, walkers, and so forth).
  4. Make a list of names and telephone numbers of the principal emergency services of the area, as well as of the people closest to you (family and friends, your physician, etc.).
  5. Collect all documents that you consider important (birth certificates, property deeds, documents for banking accounts and insurance, etc.) in a water proof bag or container and keep them on hand near your emergency suitcase or package. Write down the most important data, such as numbers for credit cards, checking, and savings accounts. Make a copy of this list and give it to a person you can trust outside of the danger area, so you can get this information should you need it.
  6. Prepare a personal data card including: blood type, if known with certainty; whether you regularly take any type of prescription drugs for treatment of a disease such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary insufficiency, and so forth; whether you are allergic to specific medications or foods; and the name and telephone of your physician and of people who should be notified if necessary.

Other Useful Preparations.

  • Get a belt-bag and keep it handy, if you have valuable items you want to take with you.
  • If you have an automobile, make sure it is always in good operating condition (periodically check the battery, motor and transmission oil levels, tire pressure, including the spare tire, and that the gas tank is always full; make sure you have tire-changing tools available and in working condition).
  • Use the trunk of the car to store folding chairs, blankets, and air pillows that can used in a refuge or temporary shelter.
  • Remember that animals are not permitted in temporary shelters and refuges, except for seeing-eye dogs. Thus it is essential that you identify your pets with tags, and give them ahead of time to a person or institution that can take care of them. In the event that you cannot find anyone to take care of your pet, leave it in some safe place in your own home, with food and water.

Activities to Carry Out Immediately When an Emergency is Declared

  • Stay tuned to a local radio station which monitors news and weather conditions, and follow its instructions.
  • Immediately follow the indications and recommendations of the official and agencies coordinating emergency activities.
  • If it is necessary to evacuate your home, leave promptly, lock all doors and windows, and do not leave objects in your yard that can be picked up by high winds and become projectiles that might injure people.
  • Disconnect your electricity and gas mains, using the master switches. Unplug all electric equipment.
  • On leaving your home, make sure you take your emergency suitcase and important documents, including your identification papers, and lock the doors.
  • If you live on the upper stories of a high building, avoid the elevators; the electricity may be shut off and you may get trapped.
  • As quickly as possible go to the meeting points previously designated with your family and/or friends. These should be on high ground. Remember that low-lying streets are the first to flood.
  • Do not forget to bring any medications or equipment you need to treat your illness or cope with other physical limitations (medications for asthma, insulin and syringes for diabetes mellitus, dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, humidifiers, canes, crutches, walkers, and so forth).
  • Evacuate your home while it is still daylight. Leave at night only if you think it is more dangerous to stay than to move in darkness.
  • While moving from one place to another, avoid touching the power lines. Be especially careful while crossing streets: remember that traffic lights may be out of order due to a power outage.

Activities and Precautions for the Duration of an Emergency.

  • Tune in to your portable radio frequently in order to stay abreast of developing news and official instructions and recommendations.
  • As soon as you have reached your new location notify your family and friends.
  • Prevent tensions. If you need something, tell the people around you (family, friends, shelters or refuge staff, or emergency coordination personnel).
  • Prevent dehydration. Drink enough fluids, preferably fruit juices, in order to replace lost water and mineral salts. Pay special attention to the consumption of fluids by children.
  • If you feel ill, report it immediately to the people around you or to the health post personnel; report discomforts such as headache, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, palpitations, cramps, diarrhea, dry skin without sweat, uncontrollable sleep, pallor, or any other symptom.
  • If it is hot, try to stay in the shade; use loose clothes, and stay out of the direct sunlight.
  • Should the emergency occur during the cold season, cover yourself well with several layers of clothes. Use gloves and a hat to help conserve body warmth. Standing up, walking around, and drinking hot beverages will also help you preserve your body temperature.
  • Eat often, though in small quantities, to conserve your energy. Eat fiber rich foods.
  • Avoid eating dairy products, as well as meat and its derivatives if they have not been canned or refrigerated up to the time of consumption. This will help you avoid gastrointestinal disorders.

Activities to Undertake Upon Returning Home at the End of the Emergency

  • Continue to listen to your portable radio frequently in order to stay abreast of developing news and official instructions and recommendations.
  • Carefully inspect your home. If you find damage, confirm that it does not pose a threat to your safety. If it does pose a danger, leave your home at once and notify local officials.
  • Before entering your home, inspect it carefully to ensure that there are no wild animals, reptiles, or insects inside that could hurt you or harm your health.
  • As soon as you return home, notify your family and closest friends.
  • Avoid using electricity for a few hours in order to prevent the damage that sharp voltage swings can cause to electrical installations.
  • Do not plug in, or turn on electric equipment that is moist or wet.
  • Avoid the use of gas installations until you are certain that they have not been damaged, and that there are no fuel leaks.
  • If necessary, cook with charcoal, and only outside of your home.
  • Avoid using water that might be contaminated without first disinfecting it. Boil the water you use to cook and drink.


Department of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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Regional Office of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel: +1 (202) 974-3000  Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663