Public Health Preparedness Program

Mission: To prepare and respond to natural and man-made public health emergencies including, but not limited to:

  • severe weather conditions
  • bioterrorism
  • disease outbreaks
  • radiological/nuclear hazards
flood, health worker in protective equipment, lightening, snowstorm

Each month HCHD will bring you information and resources about different hazards and how to be prepared to respond. 


Hazard of the Month
Hazard of the Month: Swimming Safety
Drowning Prevention for Children:

Drowning is the number one cause of death for children aged 1-4 years old, and children can drown quickly and quietly. Follow these tips to help keep kids safe:

  • Fence off and/or cover swimming areas when not in use.
  • Empty bathtubs, buckets, and kiddie pools immediately after use.
  • Never leave young children in water (including bathtubs and kiddie pools) without adult supervision, even for a moment.
  • Don’t divide attention between watching a child in water and other tasks.
  • Enroll your child in swim lessons. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics page to learn when and how to choose swim lessons.
  • Learn what drowning looks like by visiting the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.
  • Consider learning CPR to perform emergency resuscitation if needed, until professionals arrive. To find a CPR class near you, please visit the American Red Cross CPR Training

Learn more about drowning prevention, including PSAs from parents of drowning victims, by visiting the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Swimming Pools:

Before you swim:

  • Don’t swim if you’re sick, especially with diarrhea.
  • Don’t swim with open cuts or wounds. Cover them with waterproof bandages.
  • Apply waterproof sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) when swimming outdoors, even on cloudy days. Reapply every 90 minutes.
  • Know your swimming abilities and those with you. Remember that even children who have taken swim lessons are not “drown-proof”.
  • Make sure a lifeguard is on duty and know where they are stationed.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other drugs.

In the Pool:

  • Don’t swallow water.
  • Don’t spit, pee, or poop in the pool.
  • Get out if you get too tired, too cold, or too thirsty
  • Never hold someone underwater.
  • Make sure young children and weak swimmers wear life jackets. Remember, water wings, pool noodles, and inflatable toys are NOT proper flotation devices.
  • Get the lifeguard’s attention immediately if you need help or see another person in distress.

After the Pool:

  • Thoroughly dry out your ears to prevent infection.
  • Take a shower to wash off chlorine, bromine and other pool chemicals.

To learn about pool regulation and licensing, visit the Howard County Health Department’s Community Hygiene Program.




Swimming in Ponds, Lakes, and Oceans:

Know Before You Go:

  • Find out if the water is safe to swim in. Some bodies of water are closed because they contain dangerous amounts of sewage, chemicals, debris, or other hazards.
  • Learn whether the water will be monitored by lifeguards. Consider extra precautions, like life jackets, if you are swimming at your own risk. Visit Water Safety USA to learn how to properly choose and wear a life jacket.
  • Check the weather report to make sure conditions are safe for swimming. Rain, lightning, currents, and cold temperatures can increase risk of injury or death.
  • Let someone on land know where you will be swimming, and for how long.

In the Water:

  • Never swim alone, after consuming alcohol or other drugs, or after dark.
  • Avoid swallowing water and sand to keep germs and chemicals out of your body.
  • Don’t jump or dive into unfamiliar water. Trees, rocks, banks, and other underwater hazards can injure or kill.
  • Get out of the water if it smells strongly unpleasant, looks discolored, or you notice pipes draining into the water. These are signs that the water is polluted and unsafe for swimming.
  • Don’t poop in the water. Make young children take mandatory bathroom breaks each hour
  • Make sure that young children and weak swimmers wear life jackets.
  • In the ocean, keep an eye out for large, unexpected waves.
  • If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore to escape it before swimming back to the beach. To learn how rip currents form and why they can be dangerous, please visit the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.

After Swimming:

  • Thoroughly dry out your ears to prevent infection
  • Wash hands with soap and water as soon as possible. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer instead.
  • Once available, shower with soap and water.

Use the resources below to learn more about staying safe in natural bodies of water:

USDA Forest Service, Water Safety

CDC: Water Safety

Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Stay Safe on the Water


When you see someone in trouble in the water, notify the nearest lifeguard immediately! If there is no lifeguard and you must help them yourself, do NOT swim after them.

Remember: Reach, Throw, Row—Don't Go!

Reach: Securely hold the dock or boat and reach out to the person with a paddle, stick, fishing pole, or arm.

Throw: If the person is out of reach, throw them a life ring, life jacket, or something else that floats.

Row: If the person is out of throwing distance, use paddles or oars to row your boat closer to them, or call out to a nearby boat.

Don’t Go: Do NOT go into the water to help unless you are trained in lifesaving—a drowning person can pull you under the water. Instead, call out for help, dial 911, and/or go find help nearby.

Additional Resources
Heat/Sun Safety Tips
Look Before You Lock hot car infographic

Extreme heat can be dangerous after long periods of exposure, if proper precautions are not taken. 

To protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers posed by prolonged sun and heat exposure, follow the below tips:

  • NEVER leave children or pets unattended in a parked car or other hot environment.
  • If you must be outside in the heat, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, a hat and sunscreen.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water and caffeine-free liquids. Alcoholic beverages do not keep you hydrated.
  • Take frequent rest breaks in air-conditioned or shaded areas if you must work or exercise outdoors. If possible, stay out of the sun during the middle of the day.
  • Know the signs of heat-related illness, including: extreme weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, headache, vomiting, fainting, dry/red skin.
  • Check regularly on infants, elderly, family and neighbors with health conditions as they are more vulnerable to heat-related illness. 
  • If planning a trip to the lake/beach/pool to cool off, be sure to review swim and water safety guidelines with your family and children

Additional Resources about Heat/Sun Safety:

Places to cool off on a hot day (contact location to verify operating hours before visiting)

Anyone in need of shelter or other assistance should call the Grassroots hotline at 410-531-6677 or visit


Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps

How can YOU help in an emergency?
Become a Howard County Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer

The Howard County Medical Reserve Corps (HCMRC) Program is volunteer organization created in July 2002. Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers can be medical and public health professionals or community members with no healthcare background.

This organization prepares for and responds to extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, blizzards, and floods, as well as other emergencies affecting public health, such as disease outbreaks.

The MRC also plans community health activities that promote healthy habits.

For more information or questions, contact Patty Walcott at 410-313-7569 or via email.

At A Glance Emergency Contact Information

Howard County Health Department
Phone: 410-313-6300

Maryland Department of Health (MDH)
Phone: 410-767-6500
After Hours Emergency: 410-795-7365

Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)
Phone: 410-517-3600

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Phone: 800-232-4636

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