Preparation for Natural Disasters
Preparation for Drought, Wildfires and Other Natural Disasters
There is a historic drought impacting much of the Western half of the United States and conditions are especially bad in California which means people with diabetes need to be prepared for an active wildfire season this year. These fires and the subsequent mudslides can both prompt split-second evacuations. And of course, there is also the ever-present danger of a wide-spread major earthquake that can impact California or your local neighborhood.
Whatever the cause, you need to have your emergency kit ready because there isn't always time to prepare your diabetes survival kit. This is especially important for seniors and people who are using insulin. We know from published studies on the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita that more seniors died in the first month after the storms and the impact from the storms lasted a year or more. The impact could be localized to a specific area or very widespread if a major earthquake impacts your region.
This is what a basic (not refrigerated) diabetes survival kit, ideally kept in a small backpack that is easily accessible, should contain:
1. A small supply of all your prescription medications and nonprescription medications (like Tylenol/Advil/Benadryl—anything you might routinely take)
2. A list of your medications
3. A list of your medical conditions
4. A copy of your health insurance card and driver’s license.
5. A paper list of contact information for critical family members/friends/doctors (in case cell phone dies)
6. A glucose meter, test strips, lancing device, and lancets if testing your blood sugar (this is true for patients on continuous glucose monitors as well, to have as a back-up).
7. An extra pair of glasses (if needed)
8. Drinking water (available in emergency pouches) at least enough for 3 days.
9. Food bars/other easily carried nonperishable snacks
10. Glucose tablets or gels (if on insulin or other medication that can cause low blood sugars)
11. Insulin pump/sensor supplies if needed.
12. A change of underwear and socks.
13. Chargers for your devices, particularly your cell phone
For patients taking insulin, a small insulated bag (like a child’s lunch bag) should be kept in the refrigerator. I suggest a bit of redundancy with the backpack above. For insulin requiring patients the insulin kit is life sustaining and if only one is grabbed it must be this one. This should contain:
1. Unopened Insulin pens/vials for all types of insulin taken. For those on pumps this must include long acting insulin such as Lantus with instructions on what dose to take
2. Syringes/pen needles
4. Glucose tablets/gel
5. A food bar or two
6. A few pouches of water
7. Meter without battery in it/strips/lancing device/lancets (put here rather than in backpack if packing both—this way it always comes with the insulin)
8. An extra battery for your meter should be taped to outside of refrigerator in can the one in your meter develops condensation. Be sure to grab it when you leave.
Make sure your refrigerator is strapped to the wall so if it falls over your supplies won’t be trapped inside. Otherwise put the insulin bag in a small refrigerator that you can easily pick up.
If, in an emergency, only regular and NPH insulin are available, reduce the doses by 20% compared to your usual doses of insulin. NPH (intermediate acting insulin—peaks in 6 – 10 hours; it is cloudy) and regular insulin (short acting) are available at Walmart as the ReliOn brand insulin. You can get them without a prescription for $25 apiece. Be sure to get syringes as well. This guide can help you determine the new dose.
With many patients reading their glucose information on a smart phone it is also helpful to a backup battery charger or a portable solar charger panel and power bank. These are readily available at REI or other outdoor camping stores or online through Amazon and other retailers.
Diabetes Preparation Resources:
1. The American Diabetes Association has a great preparation website, and if you or a loved one is impacted by an emergency disaster event you can call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383) Monday - Friday from 9am to 5pm Eastern time.
2. The Diabetes Disaster Relief Coalition (DDRC), was founded by multiple diabetes organization to provide support for people with diabetes affected by recent natural disasters. They have a diabetes specific preparation checklist, advice on how to obtain emergency prescription refills,
When emergencies occur in other areas, patients often ask how they can donate their insulin and other diabetes supplies. We recommend the Insulin For Life USA group and you can also check your favorite social network source to explore ways to share supplies within patient network groups.
General Earthquake and Fire Preparation Resources:
The Los Angeles Times just completed a six-part earthquake preparation series called Unshaken. The full series is available on their website or you can sign-up for the newsletter version. If you prefer to learn through a podcast, the public radio station KPCC created a ten-episode podcast called The Big One: Your Survival Guide. If you live in a high-risk fire area you can visit the CalFire website to develop an action plan and follow active fires and sign-up for text messages for updates on local wildfires.
Stay safe and take the time to be prepared.