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
- disease outbreaks
- radiological/nuclear hazards
Each month HCHD will bring you information and resources about different hazards and how to be prepared to respond.
Severe Winter Weather refers to a weather event that produces forms of precipitation caused by cold temperatures, such as snow, sleet, ice, and freezing rain, while ground temperatures are cold enough to cause precipitation to stick/freeze. These hazards may be enhanced with the presence of windy conditions, which can lead to blizzard, whiteout conditions and drifting of snow. Additionally, these conditions have the potential to cause transportation hazard events. According to Howard County Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) Howard County experiences an average of 5.5 Severe Winter Weather events per year. Click on the tabs below to learn about winter weather preparedness tips.
Winter can be a fun time of year for most people, but it also comes with dangerous risks if you aren’t properly prepared. This is especially true for those who live in areas that are affected by cold weather, snow, and ice. When temperature drops below normal levels, your body can lose heat quickly, and this can cause hypothermia or frostbite. Snowstorms can cause icy roads, power outages, and loss of communication services. Here are some tips to help you stay Winter Ready:
- Weatherproof your home to protect against the cold
- Prepare yourself for exposure to winter weather
- Make sure your car is ready for winter travel
- If power lines are down, call your local utility and emergency services
Click here for additional tips to learn how to protect yourself during extreme cold weather and snowstorms to prevent injury.
- Have at least a week’s worth of food and safety supplies (ex: prescriptions medications)
- Prepare a emergency supply kit for your home, car, and at work.
- Develop a communication plan with your family in case everyone is separated during an emergency.
- Bring pets indoors or provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure they have access to unfrozen water.
- Check on your neighbors and family to make sure they are okay or if they need help.
- Pay attention to local news and officials to stay updated on important emergency information.
- Up-to-date weather information can be found on National Weather Service Website.
- Learn the difference between “Watch” and “Warning”
- Eat well-balance meals to help you stay warmer.
- Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages – they cause your body to lose heat faster.
- Drink warm sweet beverages or broth to help keep yourself warm.
- If you have dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.
- CDC/FEMA Preparing for Winter Weather ASL video
Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It leads to a loss of feeling and color in the area it affects, usually extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. A victim is often unaware of frostbite because frozen tissue is numb. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin – frostbite may be beginning. Cover up well, to prevent permanent damage, and in serious cases, amputation.
Hypothermia is when your body has been in cold weather without proper protections and your body loses heat more quickly than it makes heat. This is extremely dangerous as it can affect the brain and cause you not to be able to move well, think clearly, or make good decisions.
When a snowstorm hits, it’s a lot of fun to go out and play in the snow, have snowball fights, or build a snowman. Be careful when you go outside, as you could slip and fall on icy sidewalks and seriously hurt yourself. Make sure you are wearing enough warm layers clothing, a hat, coat, gloves, and a scarf to protect yourself.
While shoveling snow, it is important to know that cold weather can put more pressure on your heart and body to keep your body warm, so work slowly and don’t try to shovel all the snow at once. Take your time, take frequent breaks. Hire a neighbor to help. If you overdo it, you could put yourself at risk of heart attack. It is a good idea to talk with your doctor about your limitations. Assuming your doctor approves, here are 5 ways to further prepare your health to shovel snow in cold weather.
- Check the weather, temperature, and wind chill before setting foot outside.
- Use the right tool and proper technique.
- Don’t overdo it. Take frequent breaks to catch your breath and drink water.
- Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite in yourself and in others.
- Learn life-saving skills. Bystanders are often the first on the scene after a disaster or in a health or medical emergency. If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself, or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Protect yourself and your loved ones during and after a winter storm. Take extra steps to make sure you heat your home safely, and follow CDC’s safety tips below.
- Heat your home safely.
- Light your home safely.
- Use generators and other appliances safely.
- Conserve heat.
- Make sure babies and older adults stay warm.
Visit Howard County’s Office of Emergency Management ReadyHoCo webpage for emergency and non-emergency notification information.
- Keep your cell phone charged when you know inclement weather is in the forecast and purchase backup charging devices to power electronics.
- What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly
- Download the FEMA app. Get weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five different locations anywhere in the United States.
- Sign up for you community’s warning system.
- Everyone in your household should know and understand your plans.
Colder weather often yields temperatures that can be dangerous after long periods of exposure, if proper precautions are not taken. Some of the dangers associated with winter weather include hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning and injuries from heat sources.
Frostbite is the freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.
To protect yourself and your family in cold weather follow the below tips:
- Cover your head.
- Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer
- Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps keep your hands warm.
- Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks, or two pairs of lightweight socks.
- Be alert to other common winter hazards, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and injuries from heat sources. CO is produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. This colorless, odorless gas can cause severe illness and death. Go here for CO poisoning prevention tips.
- Equip your vehicles with items such as heavy blankets, water, nonperishable food, a flashlight and a snow shovel. More information about cold weather.
Additional Resources about Cold Weather Safety:
- National Weather Service Winter Weather Safety
- CDC Winter Weather Safety
- Maryland Department of Health Extreme Cold Resources
Anyone in need of shelter or other assistance should call the Grassroots hotline at 410-531-6677 or visit grassrootscrisis.org.
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 Marie Ongot at 410-313-7942 or via email.
Request MRC Volunteers for your organization's public health event
Howard County MRC volunteers may be able to assist your organization with an upcoming event. Complete this request form to let us know what your needs are and you will receive a response within 72 hours from our team with the next steps. Submissions must be completed at least 2 weeks before the event. Questions should be emailed to [email protected].
Criteria to qualify for MRC assistance:
- The requesting agency provides a service which promotes or supports public health initiatives in Howard County.
- The event for which assistance is being sought does not conflict with other planned HCMRC activities.
- The requesting agency’s mission may not conflict with the mission of the HCHD, or the HC MRC.
Examples of Public Health Initiatives:
- Health Fairs
- School-based flu vaccinations
- Outreach initiatives
- Community education
Howard County Health Department
Maryland Department of Health (MDH)
After Hours Emergency: 410-795-7365
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)