Sometimes, The Health Emergency Is the Emergency
In addition to pandemics, we should think about a few other types of health emergencies. One type of health emergency is where you need to shelter at home due to some other health threat. An example might be a chemical spill or something else in the environment that threatens your health. Another type of health emergency is the run-of-the-mill First Aid situation.
Sometimes, Anther Emergency Turns Into a Health Emergency.
If you think about all of the things preppers prep for, they all have the potential to turn into health emergencies. People will get hurt in hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and many other types of events. They’ll need help. Also, many emergencies may impact the ability of health professionals to respond to the normal accidents and illnesses that fill their days. Finally, first responders are people too. As I write this, about 20% of Dallas’ Fire Department is out sick with the Omicron variant of COVID. That means that if you break your leg in Dallas, it’s going to be harder for them to get to you quickly.
Preparing for Health Emergencies – Fundamentals
For the most part, the same preparation steps will cover you for both types of health emergencies. Regardless of the cause of the health challenge, you are going to want to be able to do the same basic things:
- Start the Emergency in Good Health
- Create Barriers Between You and Health Threats.
- Maintain Personal Hygiene.
- Kill Disease-Causing Pathogens
- Diagnose and Treat Injuries and Illnesses
Some people want to run out and buy a First Aid Kit, but that’s not really the best place to start.
Start Out in Good Health
As discussed in the post on Basic Security Preparedness, you can’t be prepared for emergencies if you’re not in your best possible health. Notice that I Didn’t say “You can’t be prepared if you’re not in perfect health.” Some of us have pre-existing conditions and other factors that limit just how healthy we can be. Your goal as a healthy prepper is to get as healthy as you can, not as healthy as Tom Brady. I mean if you can do GOATB12 then by all means do it, but for the rest of us, we should strive for:
- Strength. Our muscles should be able to easily carry our weight, lift our weight, help us carry a load, and help us safely move.
- Endurance. We should be able to exert ourselves continuously for extended periods of time (30 minutes minimum) without needing a break.
- Flexibility. We should regularly stretch. Touching our toes is a great goal, but if you stretch your torso and arms too, you’re less likely to pull something doing routine movements.
- Nutrition. In an emergency, we’ll have less choice about what we eat – we’re going to take what we can get. So in normal times, we should prioritize nutritious foods. Good nutrition will also help you reach your other fitness and health goals.
- General Overall Health. This means we need to get checked out, and we need to take care of the stuff our doctor tells us to do. If Doc says you need to take a pill to control your high blood pressure, then take it.
We don’t often get a lot of lead time for an emergency, so you need to be prepared at all times. That means being healthy BEFORE the emergency starts. Being healthy will help in many ways, including preventing severe illnesses. I’m not going to stop beating this drum: If you’re not healthy, that should be at the top of your prepper priorities.
Create Barriers Between You and Health Risks
Many health risks come in the form of pathogens – viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other small organisms. Other health risks include smoke, chemicals, and dangerous pollutants in the air. We use various materials to separate ourselves from these small particles. Gloves and masks are barriers we’ve all gotten used to with COVID. We call that Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.
We can also use the walls, windows, and doors of our house, but we may need to use plastic sheeting to seal our doors and windows.
Air and space are also a good barrier, so we should think about how we can create space in our house if someone is sick. Pay special attention to your air return – it’s a vent in your house, probably on a ceiling or on a hallway wall – this is how your air conditioner / heater brings air IN before it pushes it back out. We use filters on our air returns, and some filters are better than others.
Sometimes space means just not going where sick people are. You probably know all about this from COVID, but if you don’t want to be around sick people in a pandemic then you need to be able to stay at home. That means you need to be supplied at home. This Basic Preparation series will help you get there.
In a health emergency, we should use all of the tools (PPE, walls, air, and space) to create barriers between you and whatever health risks are out there.
Maintain Personal Hygiene
You should do everything you can to maintain your normal hygiene routine in an emergency. Things like brushing teeth, washing hands, taking showers, and getting rid of waste are important to prevent disease.
If you want to stay healthy, It’s important that you DON’T EAT POOP. That means washing hands and cleaning anything that comes close to your mouth. Microscopic poop causes ALL KINDS of gastrointestinal and other problems. So, don’t eat it. Wash your butt. Wash your hands. Get rid of your waste.
Keeping clean may be difficult in an emergency, especially if your supply of water is limited. You need to do the best you can. For example:
- Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands. It’s not as good, but it’s better than nothing.
- If you have limited water, you can take a ‘spit bath’ with a wet washcloth.
- You can also use wet-wipes to keep your body clean-ish.
- If you have a safe and clean source of natural water nearby (lake, river, etc.) you can perhaps take a bath there.
Whatever the situation, and whatever your limitations, strive to be as clean as possible. It will help keep you from getting sick, and will help keep your morale up.
We don’t need to dwell on killing germs, because we’ve all been in a collective crash course on it. But let’s cover the basics:
- We use hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes on our hands.
- We use sanitizing wipes and disinfectant sprays on surfaces.
- To save money, you can fill a spray bottle with water and add a spoonfull or two of bleach. Use the spray on hard surfaces and wipe it off with a paper towel or soft cloth.
If you have a wound, you need to clean it to prevent infections. We’ll cover that in the next section.
Diagnose and Treat Injuries and Illnesses
Unless you are a doctor, nurse, EMT / Para, or other medical professional, it’s time to start learning first aid. That doesn’t mean pick up the book that came with your first aid kit, that means training and certification.
First Aid is help that is provided to injured or sick people before they can get professional medical attention.
CPR is cardio-pulmonary recitation. It’s a technique to help someone who has stopped breathing and/or their heart has stopped beating.
AED is automated external defibrillator. This is a device that sends electrical pulses into a body in an attempt to re-start or re-set a heartbeat.
The American Heart Association and the American Red Cross both offer CPR / AED training. The Red Cross also offers First Aid Training and certification. I personally prefer the American Red Cross track, because you can get CPR, AED, and First Aid training from them.
Specifically, I think everyone should be certified in infant / child / adult CPR / AID and in First Aid. This is probably two courses at your local Red Cross, but some locations will do it in one course. A lot of it can be done online. Make it a priority.
First Aid Kit
You’ll also need to have some first aid supplies. Speaking of which, here is a GREAT article about the first aid kit you need. Hint: It’s not one you’re going to buy at the store. You need to build your own first aid kit, so you know what’s in it, where it is, and how to use it. I recommend you build your first aid kit right after you get your first aid training.
At Preppermill, we are expanding the definition of First Aid Kit to also include Personal Protection Equipment, sanitation, and a few other things you’ll need in a health emergency. We call this the Emergency Health and First Aid Kit.
First Aid Kit
- First Aid Bag (This is the one I use, but choose a good one for you.)
- Adhesive Bandages (Booboos)
- Adhesive Bandages (2X4)
- Adhesive Bandages (3X4)
- 4X4 Gauze Pads
- Sport Wrap
- Gauze Rolls
- Blister Relief - Moleskin / Second Skin, Pads, Etc.
- Eye Kit
- Alcohol Swabs
- Trauma Bandage
- Irrigation Syringe
- Trauma Shears
- CPR Mask
Personal Protective Equipment
- KN-95 / N-95 Masks
- Face Shield
- Eye Protection
- Nitrile Gloves
Disinfecting / Cleaning Supplies
Other / Misc. Supplies
- If you're not already in great physical shape, start working on that. Small changes add up.
- Next, you need to get some training. Go to your local Red Cross, REI, NOLS, or other training provider. At a minimum, you should get First Aid, CPR, and AED training for adults and children.
- I have two First Aid books that I recommend: NOLS Wilderness Medicine and the Ship Captains' Medical Guide. The latter is not really a "Basics" book but you can download the old version V22 - 1999 for free and it's not bad to have around... BOOKS SHOULD SUPPLEMENT TRAINING, NOT REPLACE IT.
- Build a First Aid Kit based on what you learned in training.
- Supplement your First Aid Kit with personal protective equipment, cleaning materials, and other items listed.
- Every year, you'll need to revisit your training and review your equipment. Your knowledge and your first aid supplies will degrade over time.