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University of Iowa News Release


April 2, 2007

Families Urged To Prepare For Health Emergencies During Public Health Week

The University of Iowa College of Public Health, University Hygienic Laboratory, American Public Health Association and other partner organizations are encouraging Americans to prepare effectively for public health threats, from bioterrorism and natural disasters to disease outbreaks, during National Public Health Week, April 2-8.

This year's weeklong observance is themed "Preparedness and Public Health Threats: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Nation's Vulnerable Populations." It will focus on connecting vulnerable populations, including mothers with young children, local food banks, hourly-wage workers, schools, and people with chronic illnesses, with resources to help them prepare for health emergencies.

"We should each have, for ourselves and our families, our own emergency plans," said Christopher Atchison, director of the Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness, based in the UI College of Public Health, and interim director of the University Hygienic Laboratory. "Where would we go if there was a natural disaster? Could we live at home for an extended period if there was a pandemic and we wanted to reduce exposure?

"As a community, we should take steps to assure that those with special needs in an emergency are protected, as well. Will there be food and pharmaceuticals for those who are shut-ins? Will evacuation plans consider the needs of the disabled?" added Atichson, who also is a UI professor of health management and policy.

Despite growing threats and a host of awareness campaigns, Americans remain largely unprepared for public health emergencies in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and other recent events. A September 2006 poll conducted by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion noted that only 31 percent of Americans have any emergency plans in place.

Bonnie Rubin, emergency preparedness and terrorism response coordinator for the University Hygienic Laboratory, advises every household to prepare a disaster supply kit and communications plan. The kit is designed to provide a family's basic needs for up to 72 hours, including food, hygienic items, flashlights and other essentials.

Rubin estimates that the cost of assembling a kit for a family of four plus two pets is around $235. To view the complete disaster supply kit list, visit

Rubin recommends that for those who are unable to acquire all items on the list, they should at the very least have flashlights, extra food, blankets, personal hygiene supplies and medications.

"As we have seen from the recent ice storm and last year's tornadoes, natural disasters are probably the most common occurrences in Iowa," Rubin said. "In addition, the state has experienced flooding and 100-mph, straight-line winds. The impact on the individual -- loss of power, damage to property, injuries, the inability to get to your home or contact your family -- indicates the importance of an emergency communications plan."

Rubin noted a few of the simple things families can do to be prepared for emergencies:

-- Complete the Protect Iowa Health preparedness guide produced by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Copies can be obtained at

-- Develop a communications plan in which all phone numbers of family members are kept current. Also include the phone number of someone out-of-state or at a distance to contact during emergencies.

-- Have an established place to meet roommates or family members if you can't get to your home.

Atchison noted that maintaining emergency preparedness is a challenge because although the possible threats are numerous, their occurrences are relatively rare.

"Maintaining an effective plan, assuring preparedness and knowing roles are each perishable commodities under this reality," he said. "We need to ensure that the support is always in place for training, surveillance, investigation and intervention."

More information on National Public Health Week 2007 may be found at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647,; Writer: Brandy Huseman.