Emergency Preparedness for Diabetes

David Mendosa Health Guide
  • Like everyone else, those of us with diabetes must prepare for emergencies. But because we have more and different needs, we have to do more than just think about what could go wrong. (Sadly, that’s what most people do.)


    The United States experienced an average of 50 natural disasters each year in the first decade of this century—more than 560 in total—according to the records the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) keeps on “major disaster declarations.” Already, in the first three years and 10 months of this decade, FEMA has declared 280 major disasters—an average of more than 73 per year.

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    We all need air, water, and food. Some experts have a “rule of three” that says we can live three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. While “your mileage” may vary, this rule has the virtue of being easy to remember.


    In an emergency, we should expect to lose our purified tap water so you should always have a store on hand. How much? “There’s an old urban myth that you should drink at least eight glasses of water a day,” I wrote with Jennie Brand-Miller in my first book, What Makes My Blood Glucose Levels Go Up...and Down?. “It appears to lack any scientific proof.”


    The Mayo Clinic agrees. It recommends the average man should consume about 13 cups a day and the average woman should drink about nine cups. So, how long should you prepare for? The standard guideline is that we need to be self-sustaining for at least 72 hours during an emergency. For a man, that comes to about a gallon of water.  


    That doesn’t sound like enough to me, and it probably isn’t because, among other things, it doesn’t include using the water for anything like washing or brushing our teeth. Personally, I make sure to have at least five gallons of filtered tap water on hand—and I think that is a reasonable amount to have on hand for each person. I keep most of this water in the Reliance brand containers that I use for camping trips.


    The first rule for our emergency food supply is that it will need to be replenished regularly. We need to keep it fresh, keeping an eye on the expiration dates of whatever you’re storing. Remember that you can’t rely on food that needs to be frozen or refrigerated, because in an emergency, the power may go out.


    The second rule for people with diabetes is that the food needs to be healthy. Specifically, the food shouldn’t include anything that raises your blood sugar level. That means foods that are low in carbohydrates—and that we also like to eat.


    For me, that means foods that I keep on hand in my small kitchen pantry. I always have canned salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna. I buy it by the case from VitalChoice, which in my experience offers unsurpassed quality.


    Except for tuna, these fish are all high in the most healthy fat, omega-3. I also make sure to keep extra-virgin olive and coconuts oils on hand for my salads. While we may have to forego salad in an emergency, we always need fats like these to survive, particularly if you follow a very low-carb diet, as I do.


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    I always have plenty of chia seeds on hand for my salads and other meals. In an emergency, I will eat them by the tablespoon. Almonds are a wonderful snack food, too. Although I freeze them for the crunch, if our refrigerator is no longer working, almonds at room temperature are just as healthy.


    You probably have other healthy and tasty products in your pantry that will serve you well in an emergency, and if so, you might want to consider keeping more of the same in supply. I know that my list of emergency foods is a short one that would get boring pretty quickly, but in an emergency, I would have a lot more to be concerned about than boring food.


    Many of us who have diabetes also need to have adequate supplies of our medication on hand. Nowadays, insurance companies are limiting how much we can have at one time, so you may need to negotiate this with your insurance company.


    Some of our medications, especially insulin, shouldn’t get too hot. If you refrigerate any of your medications, be sure you have a backup. At a minimum, you will need to keep a lot of ice cubes on hand. And you may also want to consider a device that people use for travel with insulin: a Freo cooling wallet.


    When the power fails, we may not be able to heat any of our food or drink, as one of my friends, Nancy, reminded me this morning. At a minimum, that would mean no tea or coffee, which would ruin the day for many of us. But I am prepared with the Jetboil camp stove that I always have in my vehicle. Just make sure that you also have enough fuel canisters on hand to tide you over.  


    With it, you can also boil polluted water to make it drinkable. You will need to bring it to a full boil for at least a minute and then let it cool down for 30 minutes before using it, according to the New York State Department of Health.


    Finally, even if you do all this, it may not be enough. New research shows that “it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster.” That’s one reason I reached out to Nancy this morning as I worked on this article. If and when we experience an emergency, Nancy and I are prepared to share and help each other.


    Thanks, too, to my reader and correspondent, Laurel, for suggesting this topic, and to my sister, Liz, who quite a while ago encouraged me to do more than just think about this issue.


    People put off preparing for emergencies because they are so busy. Planning for trouble can also make us anxious. But, by following these simple steps to be prepared, you just might save your life.


Published On: October 23, 2013