Are you prepared for hurricane season?

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAbout a month ago, an old friend reached out to me. I had not heard from her for several years, so I wondered if something important was going on. She told me she had recently been in the process of cleaning out her mother’s home when she found something that made her think of me. It was a newspaper from June 13, 1957 with the headline, “Two Dead, 46 Hurt in Storm: Tornado Hits City, Leaving a Path of Death, Destruction.” She wanted to know if I remembered the day of the storm, June 12. Did I remember? That was the time a tornado directly hit Springfield, Illinois. It was as vivid in my mind as yesterday!

Illinois State Journal – June 13, 1957

I remember riding in the car that day with my mother, younger brother and little sister. We had just stopped by my friend’s home to give her a ride to our swimming lesson. We had only made it about two blocks down the road from her house when it suddenly started raining. It was pouring down so hard that you couldn’t see anything beyond the front of the car’s hood. The wind whipped at our car, making driving even more difficult. Between the wind and the rain, my mother was having a difficult time seeing the road, so she immediately turned around and headed back to my friend’s house. My friend’s mother was in the driveway ready to help all of us into her house and down to the basement. I cannot recall if there were tornado sirens that day, but we all sat in my friend’s basement, huddled together and hoping that the tornado would spare us. Fortunately, it did.

This was my first experience with a tornado, but it would not be my last. Once, I remember waking up to the sound of sirens and having to take shelter under a mattress in the room that my sister and I shared. I also remember huddling in school hallways with my fellow students as sirens wailed. Another time, while driving, I saw a funnel cloud headed right toward me. I have sat in bathtubs in homes without basements (advice that meteorologists recommend because it is supposedly one of the most sturdy areas of your home), listening to the transistor radio for news. Each time, thankfully, I have been safe.

When you live in the Midwest, you learn to always be prepared for a tornado, which can come out of the sky at any time. There is not time to prepare, like stocking up on water and gathering other provisions. There is only time to react and to act on what you have been taught. Unlike a tornado, however, an approaching hurricane does allow us some time to prepare. That being said, as anyone who has ever attempted to purchase hurricane supplies in the days before a storm can tell you, now is the time to prepare!

Yesterday, June 1, marked the beginning of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which will last until November 30. This year, forecasters predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season. Regardless of whether the odds of a storm in our area are high or low, continual readiness is important. Not sure where to begin in making preparations? Websites like www.ready.gov offer a number of checklists to get you started, and UTMB’s Emergency Operations website offers information specific to emergency plans at UTMB.

Because some emergencies can come without notice, you should develop a communication plan with your family. Does your family know how to get in touch with one another? It may be that as employees, we are asked to stay for an extended time at UTMB. Or, we may not be at work or home at the time of an emergency. Lines of communication could be temporarily down or unavailable due to high call volumes. It’s important to have a family discussion to determine how you will contact one another, where you will go in case of emergency and to make arrangements for the care of dependents and pets.

Just a reminder, as a UTMB employee, there are some important actions you should take to prepare for an emergency:

  • Complete the 2017 Emergency Classification and Acknowledgment Form by June 30, available in a new online format (login required).
  • Consult your supervisor or faculty advisor if you have any questions about your emergency responsibilities or reporting to work/school during an emergency.
  • Become familiar with UTMB’s Institutional Emergency Operations Plan (login required).
  • Enroll in Direct Deposit and MyChart, to ensure access to your paycheck and/or your UTMB medical records in an emergency.
  • Update your general UTMB Directory information—particularly your work location (L-code) and departmental mail routing number. Go to Employee Self-Service/Personal Information/UTMB Directory Self Service. This information is vital to our ability to determine who is affected by a particular emergency and will support our efforts to better target emergency-related messages in the future.
  • Update your contact information in the UTMB Alerts emergency notification system. From the Directory tab on iUTMB, search your name and click the “Edit My Alert Info” button. Add mobile or other contact information as needed, and ensure at least two contact methods are listed for you.
  • Keep computer security in mind. Never reveal your UTMB login information to anyone, and be suspicious of emails asking you to enter your login information.
  • WEAR your ID badge every day at all UTMB locations, so emergency responders will know you belong.
  • Develop an emergency plan for your home that takes into account care and safety of dependents and pets.

Steven Cyros may have said it best: “Remember: when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.” Let’s all commit to doing our part to assure that we can respond in any situation to assure our safety and the safety of our patients.