Ready as you can be? Disaster preparedness when you’re living with a health condition

Posted October 5th, 2017 by

The recent string of tragic natural disasters highlights the importance of planning ahead (as much as possible) for managing your medical needs in the wake of a crisis. So we’ve gathered some expert preparation tips and ideas for what to keep in an emergency supply kit.

All the victims of these disasters are in our thoughts. If you were affected, see a list of U.S. federal resources here, including the national Disaster Distress Helpline — open 24/7 for people experiencing emotional difficulties after any natural or man-made disaster.

Make a plan

“You are in the ideal position to plan for your own safety as you best know your abilities and needs during and after an emergency or disaster,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC advises that people with disabilities or special health considerations make plans with the help of family members and/or care partners.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) offers these general tips for getting ready for a disaster:

  • Get informed. Know what kinds of disasters can happen in your community, and familiarize yourself with local warning systems, evacuation routes and shelters. If you will need help in a disaster, contact local emergency officials about any assistance they can provide and whether any local shelters will be equipped to care for evacuees with special medical needs. Also, most shelters don’t allow pets, so plan accordingly.
  • Create an emergency stockpile kit. While different disasters can require different stockpile items, a few basics are needed for any emergency. These include a battery-operated radio, clean water and nonperishable foods, a first-aid kit, a manual can opener, extra batteries, important medications and documents, a flashlight, water-purifying agents, clothing, bedding, copies of important documents and pet food, if needed. Make your kit portable in case of evacuation or make a second stockpile kit that you can easily take with you.
  • Practice and communicate. Include all of your household members in creating an emergency plan and putting together a stockpile kit. Also, practice by doing drills. Designate an emergency meeting point and contact person in case an emergency happens when you are separated. Being involved in the preparedness process is critical for building confidence and can lessen stress and mental health effects.

Make sure you have a supply of your medications on hand by filling your prescriptions at the earliest possible date (and store them according to the instructions). If you have medications that require refrigeration, keep gel ice packs in your emergency supply kit in case of a power outage. Even if you don’t store extra medications right in your supply kit, keep a list of your medications in your kit so that you know what to grab in a hurry.

Consider the specifics

For pointers on preparing for your own specific medical needs and the types of disasters that could possibly affect your region, check out these additional resources:

  • The APHA’s collection of emergency preparation guides for specific types of disasters — from tornadoes and earthquakes to blizzards and wildfires — as well as manmade disasters and health pandemics
  • Alaska’s “Get Ready!” Toolkit and Oregon’s “Ready Now!” Toolkit — thorough disaster prep guides for people with disabilities, including how to pack a supply kit, make an evacuation plan, and prepare pets and service animals for emergencies (note: in the “Ready Now!” document, skip to page 9 for universal tips for people outside of Oregon)
  • Emergency 2.0 Wiki’s accessibility toolkit — a crowd-sourcing site that pools resources (like videos, social media tools and specialized smartphone apps) to make emergency information accessible to everyone, including people with hearing, vision and communication difficulties
  • Smart911 — a free service that the CDC recommends because it allows you to create a private safety profile that instantly transmits information you specify (such as your health conditions and medications) to the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s computer screen when you place an emergency call.

“Being prepared for the unexpected is one of the best ways to lessen the impact of a disaster, both physically and mentally,” the AHA says. “Plus, knowing you’re prepared will help you stay calm and clear-headed in the face of a disaster so you can make safe decisions for you and your loved ones.”

Do you have any additional tips? Join PatientsLikeMe today to share your ideas and talk about topics like this with others in the forum.

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