The Big List of Nasty Disasters Part 17: Preparing for Biological Disaster
Of all the disasters I can think of, one of the most terrifying is the possibility of an invisible and deadly pathogen racing across the globe causing widespread, even global biological disaster.
The problem with biological pathogens is you can’t see them. You don’t know who might be contagious. You can’t shoot the virus down, or kill it with one fell swoop because it jumps from person-to-person, or animal to animal. It will sneak across international borders, and hitch rides on planes and ships. It might originate in a pig, but then be transmitted to a human by a blood sucking mosquito or a tick.
It rears it’s ugly head and says, “I am the mighty biological pathogen, and I will mutate, I will transform, and I will spread rapidly and multiply.
You might be able to run. You might be able to hide.
But then again, you might not.
And I, am coming for you!”
Biological Disaster — Not If, But When!
There are many disasters to be concerned about and for which to prepare. The gamut includes frequent events like hurricanes and tornadoes all the way up to rare but big, bad, nasty global events that can kill millions. And then there are those outliers that probably will never happen, i.e., alien invasion.
Biological disaster, however, fits into all of these categories, and when it comes to global pandemic it is not a matter of if, but when?
In fact, there are many deadly pathogens currently active around the world, and the potential for them to spread is increasing.
The Dangers of Globalization, Urbanization and Animal Transmission
With immigration, migration, and worldwide travel on the rise – the danger of disease quickly spreading is greater than ever.
Scientists from the SIU School of Medicine state, “The travel and trade necessary for economic globalization, continued potential for transmission of infectious agents from animals to humans, and large populations living in proximity in major urban areas of the world, make disease outbreaks a major threat.”1
Many scientists predict the next major Pandemic will kill many millions of people.
Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says, “Of all the things that can kill millions of people in very short order the one that is most likely to occur over the next ten years is a pandemic.”2
Furthermore, Michael Osterholm, author of the new book Deadliest Enemy, and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota said, “We are sitting on something big with H7N9, any one of these cases could trigger something big. By then it’d be way too late.”
Why too late? Simply because there is no vaccination or cure and because government health officials would not be able to respond in time to stop the spread.
Has this happened before? Yes! Here are some historical examples.
HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF PANDEMIC
The Black Death
Probably the most infamous and deadly of all biological disasters, the “Black Death” came to Europe from the Near and the Far East aboard ships, and it killed as many as 375 million people. It earned its name from the disgusting black, blood and pus oozing boils that covered its victim’s bodies. Once infected, people were unable to keep food down, became delirious from the pain, and overcome with fever. The symptoms mentioned above were followed by vomiting, chills, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains, and then, death.
The Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote, “At the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits…waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils.”
I believe there are significant lessons we can learn from the historical record of this event, particularly, how people respond to each other is such a situation.
The staff writers at History.com wrote,
“In a panic, healthy people did all they could to avoid the sick. Doctors refused to see patients; priests refused to administer last rites. Shopkeepers closed stores. Many people fled the cities for the countryside, but even there they could not escape the disease: It affected cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens as well as people. In fact, so many sheep died that one of the consequences of the Black Death was a European wool shortage. And many people, desperate to save themselves, even abandoned their sick and dying loved ones.”3
I find that last line especially telling. Can you imagine the horror of abandoning your sick and dying child? Can you imagine what people will do to those who are not their loved ones in a desperate situation?
Let’s look at another example.
Did you know that according to Harvard, “36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu?4
However, that yearly number pales in comparison to the 675,000 Americans who died when a new strain of Avian flu rocked the nation in 1918. People had little to no immunity to the new strain, and it killed indiscriminately — young, old, healthy, infirm — it was no respecter of persons.
According to WebMD, this Influenza pandemic — “The Spanish Flu Of 1918” — killed 40-50 million people worldwide.5
The crazy thing about influenza is that it is constantly spreading among animals every day and mutating into new strains. According to Scientific America, “If it picks up just a handful of certain mutations, it could start spreading among people, with a mortality rate as high as 60 percent.”6
Wow! With a global population of 7 billion, that would be nearly 4.2 billion lives lost. That’s intense.
Remember, this list is just a brief sampling of some of the most notable historical events. Other diseases have made their mark as well.
Most notably, smallpox claimed the lives of 300 to 500 million people. Additionally, Malaria kills an estimated 600,000 people each year. Cholera infects three to five million and kills an estimated 100,000+ every year. The spread of Zika, SARS, H7N9 and other illnesses is on the rise.
In the past, it took an estimated 6-9 months for a pandemic to span the globe. Scientists believe that today, with modern travel and globalization, it will happen much faster.7
Still not convinced the threat is real? Here’s further proof.
The SIU School of Medicine notes, “Historically, outbreaks (wars) of microbial species against the human species have killed far more people than war itself. Examples include i) killing of 95% of Pre-Columbian Native American populations by diseases like smallpox, measles, plague, typhoid, and influenza; ii) death of 25 million Europeans (a quarter of the population) caused by Bubonic Plague in the 14th century and 21 million deaths due to the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 (1). Worldwide, naturally occurring infectious diseases remain the major causes of death.”8
One thing that makes these threats so scary is the variety of ways in which they spread.
Delivery methods include:
Aerosols released into the air as fine mist or powders which can travel for miles and affect any person or animal who inhales them.
Animals and insects. Through livestock, mice, rats, cats, and insects such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes to name a few.
Food and water contamination.
Biological Warfare and Bioterrorism
Interestingly, there has been a lot of talk lately about the threat of nuclear war with North Korea. And while that may or may not be a legitimate concern, scientists have pointed out that “Biological agents are easy to develop as weapons, are more lethal than chemical weapons, are less expensive and more difficult to detect than nuclear weapons.”9
Therefore, it stands to reason that an enemy, whether it be a rogue nation-state or terrorist group seeking to inflict harm yet not having the capabilities to engage in traditional warfare, could do so by releasing a pathogen or biological agent.
So, considering that which might be manufactured by enemies and the increasing reach of naturally occurring biological agents, I repeat, it’s not a matter of if, but when will a biological disaster occur?
And when it does occur, how can you be prepared for it?
Here are some important things to consider.
Now Is The Time To Prepare!
I know there are many examples of people waiting too long to prepare, but one that comes to mind is what happened with iodine in California after the Fukushima reactor spill. Within hours of reports that radiation might reach California, iodine was completely unavailable. There was an instant shortage. The Government said that people had no reason to have their own iodine because health officials would disperse it when and if necessary. So they told all of the pharmacies that they must pull whatever iodine they had from their shelves.
People freaked out and some started to sell tablets on Ebay for $300-$400.
Incidentally, if you don’t have iodine already in your possession, go get it now. You can purchase the tablets for only $7.99 with free shipping on Amazon.
Plan For Secondary Effects!
Imagine the panic that will ensue if people begin to drop dead because of a rapidly spreading disease. There will be a disruption of services. Stores will close, and it is very likely that the government will limit your freedom.
Limiting of Freedom
After the intentional release of Anthrax through the United States Postal System in 2001, the “Model Act” (Model State Emergency Health Powers Act MSEHPA) was introduced to congress and recommended for adoption by the states. As with most laws that follow a terrorist attack, its intent was to significantly expand the powers of the government to act in a time of crises.
The proposed law, however, introduced items that were considered to go too far, and encroach upon the civil liberties of citizens. Particularly concerning is the “Protection of Persons” clause which states. “Protection of Persons, powers to compel vaccination, testing, treatment, isolation, and quarantine when clearly necessary.” Also, within the initial draft of the law was the power to seize firearms. This was later removed, however, the intention had already been signaled.
Bottom line, you might not be able to get back home if you are traveling, and you might be forced to receive vaccination, testing, treatment, isolation or quarantine.
Not all states have adopted the act. So to be sure, you would have to research your individual state laws. You can see if your state is on the list of 38 who have adopted MSEHPA or a derivative here, and you can read analysis that details the bills encroachment upon civil liberties from the AAPS here, and the ACLU here.
Economic Loss or Collapse
The World Bank estimates that the economic toll from a severe flu pandemic could hit $4 trillion.10
Therefore, plan for the secondary effects now.
HOW TO PREPARE
While you will most likely hear about a potential biological threat through an emergency radio broadcast, tv broadcast, or other internet news report, it is also possible that you may only hear about it through social media. The mainstream media may be advised to downplay the seriousness of the situation to avoid causing public panic.
When the news breaks, it is also likely that resources previously available will immediately become unavailable, just as we noted was the case with Iodine tablets during the reports of possible radiation concerns in California.
Therefore, it is imperative to prepare now.
Immediate action steps
Build an emergency kit for both your home and vehicle.
Make sure your emergency kit includes enough food and water for a minimum of three days. Also, make sure it contains a battery-powered NOAA radio, a flashlight, extra batteries, prescription medications, and a first-aid kit. (See this checklist)
Prepare a family communication plan.
This plan should include emergency meeting places where your family will go if you can’t stay in your home. It should include nearby locations as well as locations out of town and out of state. Also, include all contact information for each member of your family, such as phone numbers, email accounts, social media accounts, medical facilities, doctors, and school contacts.
This is just a no-brainer. It’s likely that you need a filter replacement already anyway, and a true HEPA filter will capture 99.97% of particles in the air. They remove particles in the 0.3 to 10-micron range and will filter out most biological agents. Not only that, they will help those who suffer from allergies or asthma as they eliminate dust, smoke, mold, bacteria, and pollen from the air. I searched Amazon for the best value and found an exceptional price here.
If you want additional protection or do not have a central heating and cooling system, you can use a stand-alone filter such as the Hamilton Beach TrueAir Allergen-Reducing Ultra Quiet Air Cleaner Purifier with Permanent HEPA Filter ($42.99).
HEPA filters will not filter chemical agents!
Prepare to create a safe haven environment.
Choosing a Safe Haven Room
- Select an inner room on an upstairs floor with the least number of windows and doors.
- Choose a large room with access to a bathroom and preferably with a telephone.
- Avoid choosing rooms with window or wall air conditioners; they are more difficult to seal.
Sealing a Room
- Close all windows, doors, and shutters.
- Seal all cracks around window and door frames with wide tape.
- Cover windows and exterior doors with plastic sheets (6 mil minimum) and seal with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape. (This provides a second barrier should the window break or leak.)
- Seal all openings in windows and doors (including keyholes) and any cracks with cotton wool or wet rags and duct tape. A water-soaked cloth should be used to seal gaps under doors.
- Shut down all window and central air and heating units.
Suggested Safe Haven Equipment
- Protective equipment–biological/chemical rated gas masks, if available; waterproof clothing including long-sleeved shirts, long pants, raincoats, boots, and rubber gloves.
- Food and water–a 3-day supply.
- Emergency equipment–flashlights, battery-operated radio, extra batteries, can or bottle opener, knife, and scissors, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, etc.
- Miscellaneous items–prescription medicines and eyeglasses, fan, extra blankets, passports and other important papers, television set, toys, books, and games.
Purchase N-95 (or better) Respirators or Full-Fledged NBC Gas Masks
The CDC states, “An N-95 respirator is one of nine types of disposable particulate respirators. Particulate respirators are also known as “air-purifying respirators” because they protect by filtering particles out of the air as you breathe. These respirators protect only against particles—not gases or vapors. Since airborne biological agents such as bacteria or viruses are particles, they can be filtered by particulate respirators.”
What that means is that an affordable, disposable respirator can be used to protect you from most biological agents, however, it will not protect you from chemicals or gases. For chemical and gas protection you will need a gas mask.
Personally, I would throw down the extra cash to purchase the 3M N100 filters (pictured above) for the highest level of protection in a disposable filter. They have an exhalation valve, which if you have ever used one of these for an extended period of time really helps, as well as a comfortable foam face seal. At $45.99 for a pack of 5 on Amazon, it’s well worth the piece of mind.
Another thing to remember is eye protection. The CDC recommends eye protection for people who are at risk of acquiring infectious diseases via ocular exposure. Indirectly vented, or non-vented goggles are excellent. The primary purpose here is to protect from infectious agents entering the eye either directly (e.g., blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing or suctioning) or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects. Something like the Dewalt Goggles pictured below will work well.
However, if you want the best level of protection, consider the
full-face Israeli & NATO Military Spec gas mask with a NEW 40mm NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) military grade filter. There are a lot of people falsely selling “New” filters online so be sure to purchase these.
What To Do During a Threat
It is possible that public health officials may not have immediate clarity as to what the biological threat is, or what to do about it. It might take some time to determine exactly what the illness is. By then it might even be too late. Therefore, be prepared to access information any way you can.
4 WAYS TO STAY INFORMED
Phone apps are a great way to receive notices because you probably have your phone with you most of the time
While you can receive notices on standard radio, it is best to have a NOAA weather radio.
Yes, I almost forgot this one! Though many of us use the internet alone, some people still have televisions. 🙂
PROTECT YOUR NOSE, MOUTH, EYES, AND CUTS
If you are caught without a respirator or gas mask, cover your nose and mouth with multiple layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing.
WEAR AN N95 OR BETTER MASK
IF EXPOSED REMOVE AND BAG YOUR CLOTHES
Remove your clothes as well as any personal items, bag them, and wash your body with soap and water. Then put on clean clothes.
PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
REMAIN CALM AND PRACTICE COMMON SENSE
Remember it is possible that you or a family member may become sick with a common cold or other illness not related to the outbreak. However, if you symptoms match those being reported or if you are in a group considered to be at risk, seek medical attention if available.
STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE
This one is pretty obvious I think. During an outbreak is probably not the best time to go to the mall, the grocery store, or Disneyland — this is a good reminder of why it is important to have the emergency preparedness basics of food, water, and medical supplies on hand.
If you are already out-and-about when an event occurs, fight the urge to panic, get into the open, improvise a mask or use the respirator that you should have in your bag or vehicle (ahem), stay upwind from people and make your way home.
BACK TO INDEX: The Big List of Nasty Disasters and How to Prepare: Part One