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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has said “What happens before [a pandemic] is far more productive [than what happens after one starts] and individual preparations on a household basis are key. It’s not just state and local governments – every tribe, business and family needs to talk through a pandemic plan.”

We know a flu pandemic will eventually come and we have an idea what some of the problems will be. What can we learn from the pandemic of 1918-19 that can help us prepare?

Lessons from the 1918-1919 flu pandemic
• Plan and prepare ahead.
• Have food stored in your home.
• Have medical supplies in your home.
• Have savings.
• Have alternate fuel supplies.
• Have multiple communications methods.
• Prepare for self-medication.
    o Know nursing skills
    o Know strict hygiene methods
• Social distancing makes a difference. Cities that implemented social distancing had a much lower incidence of infection spread than cities that did not. This limited frequency of and closeness of contact between individuals in a public setting.
• Prepare to have religious services at home.
• Prepare to have children home from school.
• Volunteer your help; don’t be afraid to help. Terror was created in 1918 when officials and the press did not report the truth of what was happening. “The public could trust nothing and so they knew nothing…this terror prevented one woman from caring for her sister, prevented volunteers from bringing food to families too ill to feed themselves and who then starved to death, prevented trained nurses from responding to the most urgent calls for their services. The fear, not the disease, threatened to break the society apart.”
• Survivors who had the flu are immune. Survivors are invaluable volunteers in subsequent waves of the flu because they are immune.
• Lead out, if necessary. If you see a need, lead out.

What can I do NOW?
• Store 3 months of food for each person in your household. This should get you through two waves of flu.
• Store medications for pain, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and respiratory infections as well as medical supplies and learn how to use them.
• Keep extra prescription medications stored.
• Store at least 2 weeks (14 gallons) of water for each person in case water is disrupted.
• Store fuel for alternate cooking, heating and light sources in case utilities are disrupted.
• Have more than one way to communicate with others outside your household.
• Prepare to have children home from school for an extended period
• Prepare to work from home.
• Have some cash at home and savings in the bank in case you are unable to work.
• Have life insurance in case the worst happens.
• Find out if there is a pandemic plan for your community.
• Help your family, friends, and neighbors to get prepared.
• Get involved in community volunteer groups such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams)

Help limit the spread of influenza
• You can help limit the spread of influenza by practicing some self-protection methods. You should begin when the flu first strikes the United States because it can spread cross-country rapidly. Also practice these methods when going anywhere that infection can enter the country, such as international airports.

• Avoid shaking hands. Viruses can be unknowingly transferred from infected individuals or from surfaces they have previously touched.

• Wear a surgical mask/respirator. The flu virus is often transmitted through the air. A tight-fitting surgical mask that is resistance to fluids provides adequate protection. It should be worn at all times when you are in contact with individuals outside of your home. The masks can be hung to dry and reused unless they have been contaminated with body fluids or blood.

• Clean hands often. The flu virus can live up to two days on surfaces. You can spread the virus by touching those surfaces and then your mouth or eyes or other people before washing. Anti-bacterial soap or alcohol based hand cleaners are most effective.

• Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. Infected droplets can be projected 1 yard in front of you and you are contagious 48 to 72 hours before symptoms appear.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to lessen the chance of infecting yourself.

• Limit contact with those outside your home especially inside buildings. Consider everyone outside your own home as potentially infected. Distance yourselves from others by not going into public places such as school, church, cultural events, sporting events, social activities and possibly even work. It is recommended that you stay more than 3 feet away from anyone else when you are around others. You may even decide to reverse-quarantine or go into self-isolation by staying in your home and not going out at all when the flu is active in your community.

1The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry, page 462.


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Copyright © 2004 - 2013 Cheryl Driggs
Last modified: 07/15/2013