Get Ready Glossary



Aftershock A relatively small earthquake that occurs after a larger one

Airborne transmission A method of spreading a disease where the infectious agent is in the air, and enters a person’s body through the respiratory tract (nose or mouth)

American Red Cross An emergency response organization that assists victims of natural disasters and war, as well as provides support for families of military personnel

Anthrax An infectious agent that can infect people through the skin, lungs or digestive tract. Anthrax is commonly remembered for the 2001 mailings of contaminated letters to members of Congress and the news media.

Antibiotic A medicine that can kill bacteria or stop it from spreading

Antiviral medication A type of medicine that kills viruses after they enter the body

Technical Definition >>

A medication that may be used to treat people who have been infected by a virus to help limit the impact of some symptoms and reduce the potential for serious complications.

Avian influenza Type of flu that affects wild and domestic birds, such as ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, but may also affect humans

Technical Definition >>

A highly variable influenza typical of domestic and wild birds that is characterized by respiratory symptoms caused by strains including H5N1. Avian influenza does not normally infect humans but may mutate and be transmitted to other vertebrates, including humans, causing epidemics.


Bacteria One-cell organisms that can be either harmful or helpful to humans, depending on the type

Bioterrorism Terrorist acts that intend to spread disease through the use of biological agents

Bird flu See avian influenza

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Carrier An infected person or animal that may not show symptoms but can pass the infection on to other people

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that focuses on improving the health of Americans by preventing disease and increasing health education

Communicable disease A disease that can be transmitted from one person to another

Community-based health promotion A program that educates people in a community about ways to change their behaviors in order to improve their mental and physical health and well-being

Technical Definition >>

A comprehensive, systematic, coordinated approach to affecting long-term health behavior change by influencing the community’s cultural norms through education and community organization.

Community health worker A person who works to improve the health of a group of people through actions such as outreach education, including the distribution of literature or public health materials

Contagious Something that can be passed from one person to another, such as a virus

Technical Definition >>

1) communicable by contact, such as contagious diseases 2)bearing contagion, such as contagious people.

Contamination The presence of a toxic chemical, bacteria, virus or other substance

Crisis management Controlling the situation in a manner which will lessen the effects of a disaster


Damage assessment Studying the amount of negative effects that a disaster has had, or will have in a future emergency

Decontamination The process of removing a contamination from a person, object or area

DHS (Department of Homeland Security) A federal agency that works to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, among other efforts

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Earthquake A movement in the Earth’s crust caused by underground volcanic activity

Emergency alert system A warning system that will communicate the presence or threat of a disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in charge of the Federal Emergency Management System

Emerging disease A disease that has either appeared in a specific area for the first time, or has recently evolved from another disease

Endemic Always present in a certain area

Technical Definition >>

1a) belonging or native to a particular people or country 1b) characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area or environment 2) restricted or peculiar to a locality or region (endemic diseases).

Epicenter The focal point of an earthquake

EpidemicA greater number of people affected by a disease in a certain area than normally expected

Technical Definition >>

1) affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of people within a population, community or region at the same time 2a) excessively prevalent 2b) contagious

Epidemiologist A scientist who studies the control of disease in the population

Epidemiology The study of how a disease affects a population, its causes and ways to develop prevention methods and treatments

Technical Definition >>

1) the study of the distribution and determinants of a disease or health-related event in a population 2) the sum of the factors controlling the presence or absence of a disease or pathogen.

Evacuation the process of leaving an area in anticipation of a dangerous event (like a flood or a tornado)

Evacuation plan An exit route, prepared ahead of time, that will help you escape from danger in the event of an emergency

Exposure When a person comes in contact with someone with a contagious health problem; increases the risk of catching an illness

Technical Definition >>

The fact or condition of being subject to some effect or influence.

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Fault line A fracture in the ground caused by movements in the Earth’s tectonic plates. When this movement causes a lot of energy to be released, an earthquake occurs

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) A Federal agency that regulates the safety of food, drugs, medical supplies and cosmetics

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) A portion of the Department of Homeland Security that focuses on controlling emergencies and minimizing related loses

First responders Emergency personnel who is the first to arrive at a disaster or emergency scene

Flash flood A sudden flood caused by an intense rainfall, sometimes lasting only a few hours

Flood warning A warning that flooding will occur in a particular area

Flood watch A caution that flooding is likely to occur in a certain area

H1N1 An influenza virus first detected in the United States in 2009 that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The virus, which can be spread person-to-person, has also been referred to as “swine flu” because it contains genes from viruses that normally circulate in pigs as well as avian and human genes. Scientists call this a "quadruple reassortant" virus.

Hail A form of precipitation that consists of balls of ice that are more than one-fifth of an inch in diameter

HAZMAT An abbreviation for hazardous materials

Heat wave A period of unusually hot weather

Hurricane A storm that originates over the ocean and is categorized by the presence of faster than 72 mile-per-hour winds

Hurricane warning A warning issued when a hurricane is expected to hit a particular area within 36 hours

Hurricane watch A warning issued when a hurricane is expected to hit an area within the next 24 hours

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Ice storm A storm where freezing rain becomes ice on contact with homes, roads and other surfaces

Incubation period The time between when a person is infected and the time when they begin to show symptoms

Immune system Biological system that uses white blood cells and lymph nodes to fight diseases and protect the body from becoming sick

Technical Definition >>

The bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells and tissues by producing the immune response and that includes especially the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, special deposits of lymphoid tissue, lymphocytes and antibodies.

Immunity The body’s ability to resist infection from a disease

Technical Definition >>

The quality or state of being immune, a condition of being able to resist a particular disease especially through preventing development of a pathogenic microorganism or by counteracting the effects of its products.
Immunization A vaccine that provides immunity against a disease

Technical Definition >>

The creation of immunity usually against a particular disease treatment, such as by vaccination, or an organism for the purpose of making it immune to a particular pathogen.

Infection A condition in which a disease comes in contact with the body and causes an irritation or illness

Technical Definition >>

1) the state produced by the establishment of an infective agent in or on a suitable host 2) an act or process of infecting, the establishment of a pathogen in its host after invasion.

Influenza A contagious respiratory illness caused by particular strains of viruses (see avian influenza, pandemic influenza, seasonal influenza)

Technical Definition >>

1a) any of several acute highly contagious respiratory diseases caused by strains of three major orthomyxoviruses now considered to comprise three species assigned to three separate genera influenza A, influenza B and influenza C 1b) any human respiratory infection of undetermined cause 2) any of numerous febrile diseases of domestic animals marked by respiratory symptoms, inflammation of mucous membranes and often systemic involvement.

Isolation The act of separating people who are sick from others to reduce the chance that they will spread the disease

Technical Definition >>

Physical separation of a contagious person suffering from an infectious disease from others in the community to prevent transmission.

Mitigation strategy Plans that are primarily non-medical that help to prevent the spread of disease or to minimize the impact of the spread of a disease

Technical Definition >>

Structural and non-structural measures undertaken to limit the adverse impact of natural hazards, environmental degradation, and technological hazards; plans designed to reduce or to eliminate natural or man-made hazards.

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N95 mask (N95 respirator) A mask or respirator that blocks out 95 percent of airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns

Pandemic A disease that is widespread in a specific geographic area

Pandemic influenza An outbreak of influenza that infects a large number of people in different parts of the world

Technical Definition >>

A virulent flu caused by a new flu virus strain to which humans have not been exposed resulting in a global outbreak with the following characteristics: novel virus, all or most susceptible transmissible from person-to-person, wide geographic spread.

Pathogen Something that causes a disease, such as bacteria or a virus

Plate tectonics Large sections of the Earth’s crust that shift and create fractures (or fault lines) in the Earth’s surface

Precipitation Rain, snow, hail or any other form of water falling from the clouds towards the surface of the Earth

Preparedness Taking steps before an emergency occurs in order to be ready, or prepared, for it

Technical Definition >>

Activities and measures taken in advance to ensure effective response to the impact of hazards, including the issuance of timely and effective early warnings and the temporary evacuation of people and property from threatened locations.

Prevention Methods aimed at alleviating causes of harm, especially to health

Priority group A group of people that is more likely to become ill from a disease; therefore, when resources such as medications are limited, its members are the first ones to get the medication.

Protect To cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage or destruction; to guard

Quarantine The condition of separating and isolating someone who has been exposed to a disease and may be infected with it from the rest of the population

Technical Definition >>

1a) a restraint upon the activities or communication of persons or the transport of goods designed to prevent the spread of disease or pests 1b) a place in which those under quarantine are kept 2) a state of enforced isolation.

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Rapid diagnostic test A test that can quickly determine if someone has a disease

Technical definition >>

A rapid diagnostic test is a test that can quickly reveal if somebody has a disease or not.  In the case of avian influenza, it takes around 30 minutes for the test to run.

Response plan A plan for people, states, communities, governments, etc. to use in the event of an emergency, such as who to contact, what supplies people should have and where to go

Richter scale The scale used to identify the intensity of an earthquake

Seasonal influenza A contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that causes mild to severe illness and can sometimes lead to death; most people have some immunity and an annual vaccine is available

Seismologist A scientist who studies earthquakes

Shelter in place The act of staying where you are in an emergency, as opposed to evacuating

Social distancing A strategy for reducing the number of interactions with large groups of people to prevent the spread of disease

Stockpile A large number of objects in one place with the intent to use them in the future, especially in case of an emergency

Technical definition >>

1) a storage pile, a gradually accumulated reserve of something 2) to place or to store in or on a stockpile.

Storm surge Huge rises in sea level and giant waves caused by winds from hurricanes and tropical storms

Strategic National Stockpile A large amount of medicine and medical supplies that is held by the federal government, and would be distributed to states if there was an emergency

Surge capacity The ability for hospitals or medical clinics to care for an increased number of patients following an emergency

Swine flu A type of influenza that normally occurs in pigs but may also infect humans

Symptom Signs, such as fever or stomachache, that reveal a person is ill

Technical definition >>

1) subjective evidence of disease or physical disturbances, something that indicates the presence of bodily disorder 2a) something that indicates the existence of something else 2b) a slight indication, trace.

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Tamiflu An antiviral medication that may help shorten the length of time that a person has the flu

Terrorism Acts of violence aimed at intimidating (or creating “terror”) in a population

Tropical storm A storm that originates over the ocean with wind-speed equal to or less than 73 miles per hour

Tsunami A large wave caused by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption. Sometimes referred to as a tidal wave

USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) A federal agency that regulates agricultural research and federal policy related to natural resources and farming

Vaccination The act of giving a shot or pill that prevents a person from getting sick from a particular disease

Technical definition >>

The introduction into humans or animals of microorganisms that have previously been treated to make them harmless for the purpose of inducing the development of immunity.
Vaccine A shot that includes a weakened form of the virus to help the immune system develop immunity to a specific disease

Technical definition >>

A preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.

Vector A person, animal or insect that transmits a disease from one person to another

Virus A tiny infectious agent that invades cells and can cause disease

Technical definition >>

1a) the causative agent of an infectious disease 1b) any of a large group of submicroscopic infective agents that are regarded either as extremely simple microorganisms or as extremely complex molecules, that typically contain a protein coat surrounding an RNA or DNA core of genetic material but no semi-permeable membrane, that are capable of growth and multiplication only in living cells, and that cause various important diseases in humans, animals and plants.

Vulnerable population In the context of an emergency, a person who might need additional assistance because of language barriers, a disability, limited resources or other reason

West Nile A disease carried by mosquitoes that occurs mainly in birds, but can also infect humans and animals

Wind chill The temperature that people experience after taking into account the combination of actual temperature and the cooling effects of wind

Zoonosis A disease that occurs in animals but can be transmitted to humans
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This glossary was compiled with the help of the following sources:

  • Advancing Community Health Worker Practice and Utilization
  • American Red Cross: Pandemic Flu
  • Community Health Promotion
  • International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
  • Medline Plus Medical Dictionary
  • Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary