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What I learned about emergency preparedness from spending 36 post-earthquake hours in Nepal

Nepal_guest_postI recently spent two weeks in Nepal starting a clinical trial for HandHero, an innovative hand splint that our team developed in Design for Extreme Affordability at Stanford, in partnership with ReSurge International. It was a very successful trip, with patients recruited and partnerships formed, and I was nearly on my way home when the earthquake struck. I recently detailed my experience in a guest blog post, and now I would like to share some of the lessons I learned about emergency preparedness. The following tips are by no means comprehensive, but they're the key steps I would take next time I travel abroad - and they may be useful to those conducting field research or other work in developing countries.

  • Before departure: Give your close family and friends back home a list of your local contacts. Include phone numbers and a description of who these people are and the planned nature of your interactions (ie. “I will be spending most days working with this person.”). In the event of a natural disaster, it may be faster for your loved ones to contact you than vice versa.
  • Upon arrival: Get a local phone or SIM card. In Nepal, a traveler’s pack SIM card with ample local and international call, text, and data cost US $10. While voice reception could be weak, ability to send and receive texts was invaluable.
  • Cash: Always have more than enough local currency in your wallet or stored separately. Most ATMs and banks will close in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
  • Sustenance: Pack a few energy bars for emergencies only. Bring a personal water filtration device. Keep in mind that while food and drinking water may seem sufficient immediately after a serious disaster, supplies will be hard to find and increasingly costly in the days to come.
  • Airport: Reliable information may not always be available, and airline call centers can be hard to reach. Physically going to the airport may be your best bet, and ask a trusted native speaker for help seeking out the right personnel.
  • U.S. Embassy: Keep the phone number and address of your country’s embassy handy. They can provide both logistical and practical support and will tell you whether or not there is a planned evacuation of citizens via armed forces.

AirportIf faced with a decision between leaving the country and staying on the ground to try and help with recovery efforts, consider carefully. Do you have specific skills relevant to the situation at hand? Do you speak the language? Could you be of more help staying in the country or back home raising awareness and support? While it may be extremely compelling to stay, it might not always be the best option depending on your situation.

Finally, take good care of yourself upon your eventual return. My first few days back in the Bay Area seemed very surreal, as the reality of what occurred only hit home after the adrenaline died down. Unforgettable life experiences often happen when we least expect, and the best we can do is to stay equipped with communication capabilities and basic supplies.

Jana Lim is a PhD candidate in neurosciences at Stanford. Her thesis research focuses on molecular mechanisms of associative learning in C. elegans. Lim's involvement in Design for Extreme Affordability stems from her long-standing interest in sustainable development and her desire to create more applied solutions to existing social issues.

Previously: “Still many unknowns”: Stanford physician reflects on post-earthquake Nepal, Day 6: Heading for home after treating Nepal earthquake victims, Day 4: Reaching beyond Kathmandu in treating Nepal earthquake victims, Day 2: “We have heard tales of miraculous survival” following Nepal earthquake and Day 1: Arriving in Nepal to aid earthquake victims
Photos by Jana Lim

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