The 2014 hurricane season started on June 1, and thousands across southeast Texas began preparing for what is supposed to be a quiet hurricane season. Across the country and right here at Houston Methodist, there is a unique group of people who are also prepared for hurricane season. But they don’t plan to “hunker down,” instead they run to the disaster.
When footage of a disaster starts rolling in, I’m always amazed by the people who are there within hours helping the homeless and injured. As a nurse practitioner at Houston Methodist, Paula Rupert cares for patients as they enter and leave the operating room for general surgery. As a member of the national Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or DMAT, Paula is one of those people you see rushing into a disaster area.
DMATs are groups of medical personnel, including physicians, nurses, and support staff, who are organized to provide rapid-response medical care during a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other incident in the United States. Deployed by the president of the United States, DMATs can mobilize within six hours of notification and can be on site within 24 hours. Deployments can last for up to two weeks, and team members work 14-hour shifts. While deployed, DMATs are set up like MASH units with tents, cots, etc. Team members also have to wear uniforms and boots at all times.
“I volunteered to be on the DMAT team almost ten years ago,” said Paula. “One of my favorite deployments was to the 2013 presidential inauguration to provide medical support in case of an emergency. Having a real bed, hot showers and warm food during a deployment was a luxury for our team!”
Then, the conversation will turn to the numerous disasters where Paula has provided disaster response emergency medical care, and you can tell the difference in Paula as she recounts the masses of adults and children she has cared for in these extreme circumstances. Within in two weeks of volunteering for DMAT, she was deployed to Florida after Hurricane Charley. Her most recent deployment was to Oklahoma after a deadly tornado hit the small town of Moore and claimed 24 lives in May 2013.
“Caring for others in need is not just a job for me,” Paula said. “It’s a way of life. From Florida to Oklahoma, I’ve been able to help people during one of the most devastating times of their lives. This is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”Caring for others in need is not just a job for me. It’s a way of life Click To Tweet
Usually, Paula and her team rotates being on-call with two other Texas-based teams. This hurricane season, Paula is a member of the strike force team, so she can be deployed at any time. We all hope Paula won’t have to trade in her scrubs for military boots, but just in case, here are some of her best tips for preparing to deal with a hurricane before and after it strikes the coast.
- Consider purchasing a battery-powered carbon monoxide monitor. If your carbon monoxide monitor is powered by electricity, it won’t work while the power is out, leaving you susceptible to the odorless, colorless gas that is fatal if inhaled.
- Stock up on food that does not need to be refrigerated and bottled water. Food that looks or smells bad or has touched floodwaters should be thrown away. By stocking up on canned and other preserved foods, you can ensure having enough food for you and your family while the power is out.
- Avoid standing flood water, especially without proper foot protection. Standing water can hide sharp objects and carry waterborne diseases.
- Watch out for wildlife. Standing water can also serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying diseases. The habitats of wasps, snakes and other creatures can be destroyed by flooding, so they might seek shelter at your house.