November 10, 2009





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Breastfeeding 101 for Emergency Managers


[July 22 2009]


Editor's note: Elizabeth Davis sent me this op-ed for the first time in 2008 and then again earlier this year. In light of the fact that USA KY #BreastFeeding | Public health encourages breastfeeding support during disasters and emergencies [Jul 22 Frankfort], I thought it would be a good time to re-print Elizabeth's original piece. - HN




I was reading my Nov-Dec 2007 issue of Mothering magazine, a bit of a radical feminist publication that (and here I am going out on a limb and making an assumption – something I try not to do often) most of you, I am guessing, are not familiar with and probably don’t subscribe to as I have for years. The particular article that caught my eye was not the usual about attachment parenting or studies on vaccines or homeschooling techniques but one by Pamela Wiggins entitled “Breastfeeding 101: Lessons from Katrina – In an emergency, mothers’ milk can save children’s lives”.

The article is based on a prior publication by the same author, “When Disasters Happen: Breastfeeding During Emergencies” as well as interviews and personal accounts collected in the aftermath of Katrina by La Leche League and other family and child advocacy organizations. These reports mirrored others reported in news accounts such as a tragic story out of San Francisco in 1993 about the Kim family that became stranded and lost in a snowstorm. The father perished while trying to find help for his family.

But the point is simple: during a disaster a woman who is breastfeeding does not need to worry about an on-demand food supply, sterile water conditions, temperature conditions, location, contaminated conditions. She is not dependent on electricity, refrigeration, etc. And the natural hormonal impact on the baby or toddler is a calming condition thanks to the prolactin.

So if this is the case, why as emergency managers are we not working with our partners at HHS and CDC and our local departments of health to include within our preparedness message and materials that breastfeeding is not only a healthy option in general but a lifesaving one in times of distress?


Why is it that on the shelter supply lists I reviewed I found baby formula listed but not a small stock of baby slings – something that will aid a mother in remaining close to a nursing infant but also hands-free?


Why in the shelter diagrams don’t we plan for a safe, private, and stress-free area (if possible) to empower nursing mothers to gather?


Why on the list of shelter staff skill sets have we not included a lactation specialist?


The answers to these and other basic planning questions can help to minimize hunger as well as distress that will impact not only that child and parent(s) but others in the same circumstances and/or in close proximity.

As a mother of two young daughters (both of whom were back on the job with me within one week of birth – the first asleep in a sling at a field ex) I read this article with interest because it made a compelling argument that I could easily relate to and as an emergency manager it triggered something about the level of our messaging and our accidental overlook of the most basic advise to our constituents and common sense field practices.



Breastfeeding 101: Lessons from Katrina – In an emergency, mothers’ milk can save children’s lives”. [pdf 214kb]









Elizabeth Davis is an emergency management consultant specializing in Special Needs planning, disaster human services and related issues through her firm EAD & Associates, LLC in New York.
Ms. Davis received her JD from Boston University School of Law and her EdM from Boston University School of Education with a degree in the Socio-Bicultural Study of Deafness and American Sign Language. She holds an undergraduate degree with a major in Sociology and a minor in Political Science from Barnard College at Columbia University.
After many years as an advocate in the disability community, she began public service after law school with the NYC Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities as Assistant to Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor. Due to her role as Incident Commander in the Deaf Mexican Nationals slave-ring case in Queens, she was transferred to the NYC Office of Emergency Management as Special Needs Advisor. There she was responsible for ensuring that all elements of planning, response and recovery incorporated the unique needs of the disability community, senior population, and medically dependent persons. She functioned in this capacity overseeing the Board of Education Y2K planning; planning for city-wide sheltering operations; coordinating transit strike/disruption responses; coordinating the public information lines during the West Nile virus outbreaks and throughout the events of September 11th.
Ms. Davis now consults for public jurisdictions and agencies, private businesses, home based care agencies, residential health care organizations. She retired as the first Director of the National Organization on Disability's Emergency Preparedness Initiative but remains an advisor to DHS and FEMA, sits on several national advisory boards, has been a court appointed subject matter expert, participates in many major conferences and web forums and has had materials published on the subject of Special Needs emergency preparedness and is a guest instructor to several emergency management graduate programs in addition to the recipient of several awards and commendations. Ms. Davis is the co-chair of the National Hurricane Conference Health Care/Special Needs Committee, chair of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Special Needs Committee, and served a two-year term as appointed chair of the FCC's CAC Homeland Security Committee, is an appointed member of the FEMA National Advisory Council's Special Needs Subcommittee, to list a few active roles she maintains.
As an accomplished public speaker with a reputation for creative solution development, Ms. Davis is considered one of the nation's "go-to" sources for emergency management and special needs issues. Her firm was responsible to get rapid assessment teams on the ground in four Gulf States after Katrina and provide an immediate action report for the federal authorities regarding immediate health and special needs impacts. This team model for communicating special needs information during a disaster is now being replicated across many federal agencies.
Ms. Davis grew up in San Francisco but now resides in Brooklyn with her husband and two young daughters where she remains active in community affairs.




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