Natural disasters: How to be medically prepared

August 30, 2022 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
natural disasters

Snowstorms in Texas. Floods in the South. Wildfires in the West. Powerful hurricanes like 2021’s Category 4 Ida, which caused numerous deaths and millions in property damage from Louisiana to New England. As the U.S. and the world are confronted with an increasing number of natural disasters being prepared before a disaster strikes becomes even more important.

People living with a chronic health condition like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, depression, lung disease, or Alzheimer’s disease need to add an extra layer to their preparedness plans for natural disasters—how to ensure they have access to the medications, equipment, medical records, and care they need if they have to evacuate their homes.

In addition to the plans and supplies everyone should have on hand in case of natural disasters, people with chronic medical issues and those who are being treated for a serious condition like cancer need to make some additional preparations:

  • Gather essential medical information. If you need to leave your home or even the state during a natural disaster, it’s important to take a complete, up-to-date copy of your medical record with you. The easiest way to gather that information and share it with healthcare providers if you need care is to create a secure, electronic medical record. A health advisor can make sure all your records from all providers are consolidated and kept updated. You also can use resources like your physician’s patient portal, an app that stores medical records (although you should check whether the app shares any of your information), or a hard copy of your records in a binder stored in a waterproof box. Also include contact information for all your healthcare providers in case you need to get information or request prescriptions, a copy of your health insurance card and photo ID, and model numbers and vendor names for medical equipment like oxygen and nebulizers.
  • Have extra medications and equipment on hand. Build an emergency bag that includes two weeks of your medications, as well as hard copies of your prescriptions. Remember to include other medical supplies you use regularly like glucose test strips and a meter, lancets, inhalers, syringes, contact lens and solution, an extra pair of glasses, ostomy bags, and batteries and backup power sources for medical devices. It’s also helpful to have other supplies that can help you monitor and protect your health, like a blood pressure monitor, thermometer, pulse oximeter, and masks and hand sanitizer in case you need to stay in a crowded shelter. Of course, you can’t keep refrigerated medications in your emergency bag, but do keep several ice packs in your freezer so when you take these medications with you, you can keep them cold. Check the supplies in your bag every few months and replace anything that has expired.
  • Prepare for interruptions in treatment. If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer, like radiation or chemotherapy, or if you need dialysis for kidney disease, proactively talk with your providers about what you should do if there is a natural disaster that disrupts your treatment. Your provider can provide the names of healthcare facilities and providers if you go out of state or are displaced for a longer period of time. A health advisor can also quickly connect you with experienced specialists and centers of excellence so you can continue your treatment.
  • Create an emergency evacuation plan: If you or someone in your home is seriously ill or is a person living with a disability who will need help to evacuate safely, talk with your physician and learn what resources are available in your community to help you get out of danger safely. Some local emergency management agencies keep lists of people who will need special assistance evacuating. A health advisor can also be a good resource for arranging medical evacuation.