Terrorism & Disaster Preparedness

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides helpful information on this topic through their website www.healthychildren.org. Click their link below for tips.


Since September 11, 2001 much has been written about preparing for terrorist and other disasters.  In our view most of the important measures in responding to these new threats need to be taken by government, not families.  We worry a lot about whether the government is really “putting it’s money where it’s mouth is” with regard to “homeland security”.  In particular, our local police, fire departments, and hospitals need lot more support from (and connections to) federal resources if they are to be truly prepared to respond.

In contrast to government measures, what you as a family can do to prepare realistically is limited.  Much of what has been suggested (duct tape, plastic sheeting) is silly.  Some of it (vaccines against Smallpox or Anthrax) is over-reaction, suggesting we take risks that outweigh the likelihood of the kinds of events they are meant to protect against.  There are really just a few measures we think do make sense:

  • POTASSIUM IODIDE (KI):  When taken soon after exposure to nuclear radiation, KI can prevent thyroid cancer – one of the worst and most likely medical consequences of being so exposed, especially in children!  While the government promises they are stockpiling KI tablets for distribution in such an emergency, the likelihood that there would be sufficient supplies for everybody or that they would be distributed quickly enough (within hours) to provide optimal protection seems remote.  Therefore we recommend that everyone have a supply of KI in their household at least sufficient for their immediate family.  KI tablets can be purchased without a prescription, and come with clear instructions about their proper use.  If you can’t find them in your drug store, they are available on the internet.  The best brands (Iosat, ThyroBlock) have a 5 year shelf life and are relatively inexpensive.  For children too young to swallow pills, there are two options:  The pills can be mixed in raspberry syrup, or you can get KI liquid.  The liquid has a shorter shelf life than the pills, and it is only available by prescription (which we would be happy to provide if you call or visit the office).   Please be aware that this prescription probably will not be covered by your insurance.  Finally, you should also know that KI will help after either a nuclear blast or an accident/attack at a nuclear power plant, but NOT after detonation of a so-called “dirty bomb”. For more information visit http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/BioterrorismandDrugPreparedness/ucm072248.htm
  • GASOLINE STORES: It is likely that during a terrorism emergency you may want to travel – to evacuate, to get your kids or check on loved ones.  It is also likely that gas stations may be closed or gasoline supplies may be disrupted.  Therefore it makes sense not to let your car’s gas tank ever run too low.  Get in the habit now of filling up when you get down to half-full.  A half tank of gas will get most vehicles 150 miles, which would probably be enough to get out of harms way.
  • FOOD & WATER STORES: Similarly, access to food & drinkable water might be disrupted during a terrorist attack.  Every household should keep a 3-7 day supply of non-perishable foods and bottled water on-hand for an emergency.  Furthermore, the foods in this store should be of types which do not necessarily require cooking or preparation.  Ideally some of these stores should be kept in a way (and with tools such as can-openers) that facilitates quick transfer to your vehicle in case evacuation seems wise and possible.
  • MEETING PLACES:   Finally, it is advisable that families discuss contingencies for how they would communicate and where they would meet each other in the event they were apart when disaster struck and communications networks (phones, internet, cellular) were “down”.  Pre-adolescent children should be told to stay with school staff and follow their instructions in such events, and that parents will come to find them wherever the school has them. Be aware of your school’s disaster plans.  Meeting places for adults and older teenagers should ideally be away from public places which may be targets and in any case may be scenes of confusion. 

The above represents all that is really practical, reasonable, and cost-effective for most families.  The only other, much more expensive measure to consider if you have money to burn would be the purchase of an emergency gasoline or diesel generator for your home (which could also be useful during “routine” power outages).