With an increase in the number of weather-related disasters and emergencies, it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared. A lot of families gather food supplies and water when a disaster is coming, but what about your health and wellness during and after the disaster? Many of us take daily medications, need access to prescription refills and rely on power for medical equipment. If services and supplies are limited, will you be ready?
Planning for how to maintain and protect your health is an important but often overlooked part of the preparedness process. Check out some important aspects of safety planning you’ll want to consider.
Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time
Before a weather emergency is barreling down at you, take time to prepare yourself and your loved ones. Here are some things you can do well in advance:
- Plan for a power outage. Identify emergency lighting, safe heating alternatives and backup power sources.
- Make an up-to-date list of all your prescription medications and necessary medical supplies.
- Learn about the medications and treatments you rely on. For example, if you take insulin, do you know how long it can be stored and at what temperature? Is it ever unsafe to use? If you are on dialysis, can you get a treatment in advance of a disaster? What does your health care team recommend if you can’t get to treatment?
- Educate your family members on the medications and health equipment you use. Teach them what medications you take, how to administer them and any other aspects of your health care that you feel would be important for family members to understand.
- Contact your water and power companies to get on a priority reconnection list if you rely on electronic medical equipment.
- Check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. When power outages occur, using alternate sources for fuel and electricity can cause carbon monoxide to build up.
- Pre-identify emergency departments and pharmacies that you can use during a disaster. What is located on your designated evacuation route? Do you have friends or family along your evacuation route if you need to leave home and need shelter?
- Request your medical records from your health care provider or make sure you have an electronic version you can access.
- Stay up to date on your vaccines. When is the last time you had a tetanus shot? What about a flu or COVID-19 shot?
- Build an emergency preparedness kit with your health in mind. Check out the ideas below to build your kit.
Build Your Emergency Preparedness Kit
An emergency kit isn’t complete without considering additional aspects of your health and wellness. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Water — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends planning for one gallon of water per day for each person and pet during an emergency and even more for extremely hot climates.
- Food — You’ll want to include foods that are nutrient dense that can be eaten without access to power. In addition, consider foods specific to your family’s health care needs, such as foods safe for diabetes or a food allergy. Ready.gov has a list of emergency food.
- Prescription medications — Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about how you can create an emergency supply of the medications you need.
- Additional supplies for your specific health care needs — Consider what you use daily that you’ll need access to:
- Will you need ice packs or a way to keep medicines cool?
- What about hearing aids and extra batteries?
- Do you wear contact lenses or glasses?
- Do you use an inhaler, an EpiPen, a blood sugar monitor or another medical device?
- Basic first aid materials — This would include things for a routine medical issue such as:
- Pain relievers
- Antibacterial wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Bandages and gauze
- Antibiotic cream
- A protective container — If there is a fire or a flood, how will you keep your important document and supplies safe? Consider investing in a fire-safe box or a waterproof container.
- Important paperwork — This includes any documents or personal data that might serve as proof of insurance or identity such as:
- Copies of insurance cards and vaccination records
- Personal identification such as driver’s license, passport or social security card
- Copies of current personal care plans such as advance directives, asthma action plans, food allergy list, etc.
- Child care or pet supplies — In the event of an emergency, consider if you’ll need a supply of diapers, baby formula or medicines safe for children, as well as pet food and medicines.
- Power outage-related items —If you lose power during a disaster, these items may be useful:
- Flashlights, headlamps or battery-powered lanterns
- Extra batteries in a variety of sizes
- A generator with an extension cord that can be used outdoors, as well as fuel to keep it going
- Car chargers, adapters and power strips
- Warm clothes, blankets and sleeping bags to keep you warm in cold temperatures
- Cash in small denominations — It’s possible you won’t be able to find a working ATM or gas pump after a disaster. Having cash on hand is important.
Learn Important Skills
Planning for how to maintain and protect your health is an important but often overlooked part of the preparedness process.
Having the right items in your emergency kit and preparing ahead of time are both important ways to stay healthy, but you can also learn some practical skills to keep you and your family safe in times of disaster. Here are some ideas:
- Learn the right way to wash your hands. This is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick.
- Learn how to use a portable generator safely to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Learn how to use CPR. You can take a class to become certified, but you don’t need formal training to perform CPR. According to the CDC, if CPR is performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, it can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.
- Learn how to shut off your utilities including natural gas, electricity and water.
Resources Available to Help
- Ready.gov has a detailed list of ideas for your emergency kit depending on your specific needs, including for people with low vision, people with Alzheimer’s, people who are hard of hearing and more.
- Ready.gov also details specific things to consider based on the type of weather-related disaster you may experience. Think about where you live and read up on preparing for the disasters most common in your area.
- The CDC also has extensive information about disasters, as well as information for specific groups such as older adults, expectant parents, caregivers, people with chronic illness and more.
- Weather.gov is a great place to keep up to date on the weather in your area.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has an Office of Emergency Management with resources for Veterans to access before, during and after an emergency.
When the next disaster hits, make sure you have the knowledge, skills and supplies you need to stay healthy and safe.