Disaster Drill

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

None of us can “prepare” ourselves for a disaster on the scale of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, 2011 and the subsequent nuclear reactor failure. This would equate to imagining your current life – the streets where you walk, the neighborhoods where you live, the closest grocery stores, hospitals, and shopping centers – all obliterated and splintered into pieces for miles. All of it washed away and covered in mud. Even journalists, those soldiers of information gathering in dire circumstances, have been shaken while covering this disaster.

Some of my first thoughts following the news, before I’d even seen images or understood its magnitude, concerned cancer patients. What would you do, I thought, if you were in the middle of chemotherapy? Or recovering from a bone marrow transplant?

The week of the earthquake in Japan, I’d been visiting Ann Gregory and her husband, Chris. They are what I would call, “transplant veterans.” When Ann was about to undergo her second bone marrow transplant, Hurricane IKE (the third-costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States and the costliest hurricane in Texas history) hit the gulf coast. Her hospitalization at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas was not interrupted. Thousands of area residents were without power for close to a month, but MD Anderson operated successfully for significant time on generators before full power was restored. The apartment where Chris was staying was not so lucky. They had a sewage backup as well as a power failure. For a week he lived in their car in the MD Anderson parking garage.

MD Anderson’s director of the Center for Research on Minority Health, Lovell A. Jones, Ph.D., who also serves as Principal Investigator of the  Secure Gulf Coast Consortium, says: “Until the electronic medical record becomes a reality, the best thing any cancer patient can do to guarantee continuity of care is have all their information on a flash drive. We’ve also found that we need to tell people to dedicate that drive to strictly to health info. Nothing else.”

Dr. Lovell’s work with the SGCC not only involves preparedness for patients. The seven academic and health institutions working together to improve disaster readiness for vulnerable populations from Texas to Florida are also evaluating the impact of disasters on physical and mental health well-being, persistent health disparities, and environmental contamination in the aftermath of disaster. The SECURE project will be working with elementary school children on disaster preparedness in order to increase everyone’s knowledge of preparedness, especially their parents.

In the meantime, remember these two words: flash drive. Buy one. Then compile your medical history, current medications and other pertinent medical information into a document and transfer it to the drive. Put it in your wallet and leave it there. You can also store the document in Dropbox or another web-based program like Backupify just in case (in emergencies, sometimes we lose our wallets). If you have a smart phone, put all of your medical information on a mobile app (see below) so your phone becomes your personal medical library. With this one action, you’ve just taken a big step forward in disaster preparedness.

Information on Mobile Apps

  1. SOS4Life  A cool app for IPhone and soon coming to Blackberry, that holds medical history AND translates it into seven different languages.
  2. IChemo Diary is a free download from Apple, which has a program to monitor your chemotherapy treatment and side affects.
  3. In Case of Emergency is a free Blackberry download that can store emergency contact information.

Information on Disaster Preparedness

  • Ways to Prepare for a Natural Disaster from BreastCancer.org has concise and practical information.
  • Coping with Cancer After a Natural Disaster from the American Cancer Society has an excellent summary of frequently asked questions for cancer patients and their caregivers.
  • Emergency Preparedness & Response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a primary source of information and resources for preparing for and responding to public health emergencies. This site continues to keep the public informed about public health emergencies and provides the information.
  • Red Cross Shelters is an online search for open Red Cross shelters by address, city, state, and/or zip code. Shelter information is updated every 30 minutes from the National Shelter System.
  • For those who use Twitter, follow @CDCEmergency @CrisisSocialMedia for information.

Breast Cancer Consortium member Jody Schoger has more than 25 years of experience in public relations and communications in health care, science, education and the arts. Following her own diagnosis with a locally advanced breast cancer in l998, she has since devoted her energy to helping other survivors. She is the author of the “Anchored Activism” column in Oncology Times, the respected WomenWithCancer blog, and the creator of Breast Cancer Social Media (#BCSM), a popular tweetchat for breast cancer survivors. Her writing has been featured in Cure Magazine as well as Cure’s blog. She has served as a grant reviewer for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, is a member of the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and serves on the American Breast Surgeons Board of Advocates. She recently spoke on survivorship on a #Med2 panel at Standord and will do so again at Life Beyond Cancer Center’s survivorship retreat and the fifth annual Digital Pharma East conference in Philadelphia. A frequent guest on SIRIUS radio’s “Doctor Radio,” she also has been quoted several times in USA Today and other publications.

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