Preparing For a Hurricane When You Have a Chronic Illness
In recent years, the U.S. has experienced some of the most intense hurricanes on record. These massive storms form over warm ocean waters and make their way towards land. Hurricanes carry with them many potential threats to property and life, including heavy rainfall, powerful winds, storm surges, flooding, rip currents and landslides.
Hurricanes can happen on any area along the coast and can have an impact up to 100 miles inland. If you live in an area at risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages you to prepare for hurricane season, which typically runs from the beginning of June to the end of November.
When a hurricane hits, it can disrupt our lives in many ways. Evacuation is sometimes necessary, which takes us out of our homes and limits our access to things we need. The after-effects of hurricanes, like flooding and property damage, can restrict our access to supplies like food and water. For those with a chronic illness whose health is already compromised, these disturbances can be severe.
If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic illness like pulmonary fibrosis, you are more vulnerable to the stress and disruptions of hurricanes than healthy people. While being prepared for hurricane season is important for everyone, it’s especially crucial for you or your loved one. When regular treatment plans are compromised, it can cause complications that result in a quality of life reduction, impaired livelihoods and even death. Here are some tips on how to stay prepared for hurricane season while managing a chronic illness.
Prepare For An Emergency
Start by signing up for local alerts and warning systems in your area so you can always be aware of potential hurricane threats. If there is a hurricane in the forecast, monitor your local news and weather to stay up-to-date on what is happening. Gather important documents like proof of insurance, legal documents and records and medical information about you and your chronic illness that may be needed in a medical emergency.
Create a plan with your family about how you will leave and where you will go in case of an evacuation. This plan should include emergency communication plans, evacuation routes, choosing a place to stay and packing a “go bag.”
People with chronic illnesses need to take the emergency plan a step further by considering how you will manage your condition during hurricane conditions or an evacuation. Talk to your family, friends and those in your support network about your emergency plan and how they can help you in the event of a hurricane. It’s always a good idea to have emergency supplies like a week’s worth of food, water, batteries and first aid gear on hand in case access to these things are restricted. You also need to make sure you have adequate supplies of medication and treatment if you are managing a chronic illness.
- Make sure you have at least seven days’ worth of medication on hand, including any vitamin or enzyme supplements you take as part of your treatment plan.
- Put your medicine in a waterproof container or zippered storage bag.
- If you need to evacuate, remember to pack any medical equipment you will need.
- Consider purchasing battery-operated or car-charged medical equipment that is easily portable.
- If you are on oxygen, make sure you have portable tanks that are full, and consider keeping an extra oxygen tank during hurricane season.
- Have an identification card with your name, address, medical information (including medication and dosage), physicians’ contact information and emergency contact information.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about emergency medical plans and ask them specific questions about your care and what do to if a hurricane strikes. They will help you determine an alternative way to access regular treatments if your clinic or health professional becomes unavailable. Sometimes a family member can be trained to administer treatments and medication during an emergency. More complicated treatments may be done at a neighboring hospital but may have to be delayed due to flooding, road damage or other transportation barriers. If you have mobility issues, always notify disaster response teams and local authorities. Make sure to give them specific information about your condition so that they can contact you about evacuation assistance or rescue procedures. If they know about your unique needs, they can be better prepared to help you in case of an emergency.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
For many people with a chronic illness, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a large part of their treatment plan. Consider any food restrictions or special diets when preparing an emergency supply kit. Sometimes canned food can be high in sodium, so if you have heart issues or kidney problems, think about alternatives. Stress can take a significant toll on the body, so try to keep up with healthy eating and physical activity after a disaster. Consider learning some deep breathing exercises or meditation to help deal with the stress. Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling, what you need and how they can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle during a difficult time. In the event of a hurricane, remember not to panic. Stay calm and simply carry out your emergency plans. Keep your energy focused on the solution, rather than the problem. Preparation is the best thing you can do to get ready for an emergency. Always seek support from your family and friends when making a disaster plan.
I know not every person with a chronic illness and/or disability has a support network so I wanted to share these resources:
- Find your local independent living center here – IRLU Directory of of Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and Associations (U.S.)
- Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies DISASTER HOTLINE: (800) 626-4959*
- Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies DISASTER HOTLINE: (800) 626-4959
- Find your local CERT team (Crisis Emergency Response Team) here
- Planning for safety: Evacuating people who need assistance in an emergency (Government of Canada)
- Emergency Preparedness: Including People With Disabilities (CDC, U.S.)
- An ADA Guide for Local Governments: Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities (ADA.gov)
- (list) Emergency Kit for Hurricanes (from Ready.gov)
Video, “A Disaster Waiting to Happen,” below from Rooted in Rights featuring Paul Tshuma:
For more resources on how to involve people with disabilities in emergency planning, visit RootedinRights.org/Storytellers.
*Note from Jessica: I want to thank disability lawyer and disability rights activist, Gregory H Mansfield, who suggested the first four resources.