Personal disaster plans first and professional plans next

Think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs

One of the key strategies for preparing for a disaster or crisis is to encourage pharmacists and other health care professionals to take care of their own families and homes and themselves first, and then they can prepare for the public's needs.

"When you think about emergency preparedness, think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and worry about taking care of yourself, your family, and then your community," says Erin Mullen, RPh, PhD, assistant vice president for Rx Response in Washington, DC.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow discussed how humans have a pyramid of needs that begins with the most basic needs for survival and extend to the highest level of needs, which include creativity, morality, spontaneity, problem-solving, acceptance of facts, and lack of prejudice. He discussed this hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation."

"So if you plan ahead and make sure you and your family are safe, then you can move to the next step," Mullen explains.

This means that hospital pharmacists should have their personal disaster plans ready to be put into action when a crisis or disaster occurs. Here are some suggestions for this list:

  • List your important contacts: Collect names of people who need to be contacted when a disaster occurs in your area, and give this list to someone who lives outside of your region, Mullen suggests.

"We learned from hurricane Andrew that so many people are trying to make phone calls that it's difficult to make calls in the area," she explains.

So when a disaster strikes, pharmacists should call their family or friend with the list, let them know that all is well, and have them call everyone else on the list, Mullen says.

  • Use voicemail instead of an answering machine: The difference is that answering machines will only work if there is electricity, and in flood or wind-damage areas, they could be damaged and destroyed. Voicemail is recorded off-site by the telephone carrier or another entity, so it's less likely to be disrupted because of a disaster.

"This makes a lot of sense because if you have voicemail then people can still call you and leave a message, and you can change your message on the voicemail to let people know that you're fine or the house is gone," Mullen says. "You could even leave a message on your voicemail of who your friends could contact if they need to reach you."

  • Discuss your disaster plan with friends and family: Someone outside of your immediate household should know what you will do in the event of an emergency.

For instance, if a pharmacist is scheduled to be working at the hospital during the duration of an emergency and he or she cannot be reached during this time, then it will prevent panic if family and friends know that this will happen.

  • Protect your personal belongings: If you anticipate hurricane winds or flooding, protect the personal items that are most important to you through the use of Ziplock plastic bags, moving electronics away from windows and on to higher levels, etc., Mullen says.
  • Create a disaster kit: A basic emergency supply kit should include three gallons of water per person; a three-day supply of food; a battery-powered radio; flashlights and extra batteries; a first aid kit, whistle, moist towelettes, garbage bags, and dust mask; a wrench and pliers to turn off utilities; local maps, pet food, and water for pets; prescription medications, glasses, local maps, and can opener, etc. Pharmacists could find additional details and suggestions at the federal government's disaster preparedness web site: