Preparing Your Type 1 Diabetic For An Emergency During National Preparedness Month

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • Beth McNamara tapped her husband, Dan McNamara, PMP, a consultant who works with clients at the Department of Homeland Security, to write about preparing for an emergency, natural of manmade, when managing Type 1 ... 


    In the wake of 9/11 nine years ago, the Federal Government declared September as National Preparedness Month. This is a good reminder that Type 1 Diabetics and their caregivers should set aside time prior to any disaster to plan how they will cope with the myriad disruptions that a disaster may create. After all, a disaster can be as common as a power outage caused by a downed power line during a thunderstorm or as destructive as an earthquake or hurricane. If you take the time to plan ahead, the disruption to your routine can be minimized, whether you are forced to stay at home (shelter in place), relocate to a local emergency shelter, or evacuate the area in the event of an wide-scale emergency.

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    Now is the time to make a list of what you may need to stay healthy and independent during a disaster. As you prepare, consider everything that gets your Type 1 son or daughter through the day (and possibly through the week). Ask yourself: What are the medical devices and supplies that are crucial to keeping diabetes in check? Most likely if you've made a D-list for a recent vacation, this would be a good starting point.


    For your shelf stable, non-refrigerated items, I would recommend choosing a room or closet in your house that is likely to remain dry in case of flooding and safe from breaking glass or falling debris in case of high winds from a tornado or hurricane. In many homes this is an above ground bathroom or closet with no exterior walls.

    As for storing your insulin, you should always check with the manufacturer (like Lilly or Novonordisk) and with your pharmacist concerning recommended storage procedures and expiration dates. Generally speaking, unopened insulin should be stored in the door of a reliable refrigerator.  An open vial often can be kept at room temperature for about a month. If you are concerned about losing power and not being able to keep your insulin refrigerated, you may wish to consider buying a portable or whole house generator. Alternatively, if you have a neighbor with a generator, you may want to ask them for assistance in case of a power loss. Other choices may include a local fire department, community center or house of worship.

    If you need to evacuate your home, be prepared to transport your insulin with you. Purchase a cooler that will fit your current supply of refrigerated insulin and has room for freezer packs or ‘blue' ice.  Also consider buying a thermometer to make sure that the insulin does not freeze.

    In addition to the basic supplies, you will also want to consider the resources, services, strategies, tools and techniques you use on a daily basis. For example, we have found the online version of Calorie King to be an indispensable resource for counting Carbs. But what if the power goes out, then what? That's why we always keep a hardcover copy of the Calorie King handy for quick reference.


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    Consider how you would cope if you weren't able to access your house and your well stocked emergency cabinet. In addition to the actual supplies, be sure to also have access to the prescription numbers and pharmacy phone numbers. This data should not only be stored at home, but also at work and if possible on one or more portable devices such as a mobile phone, PDA or laptop or on a thumb drive. It is also a good idea to send this data to an out-of-town relative or trusted friend.  Before the emergency strikes, explore (and practice using) all the possible ways that you could communicate with your doctor, e.g.:  phone, e-mail, text message. Hopefully, your pharmacy is part of nationwide chain and you will be able to access your child's prescription records at any retail location of the pharmacy. Also, in a real dire situation, consider where else you may have supplies stashed, such as at the school clinic or with a coach or tutor.

    A support network can also help you get through an emergency. Think about your family, neighbors, friends. Let them know where you keep your emergency D-supplies and be sure they can gain access to your home if you are unable to go there.

    Keep in mind that during an emergency, you may need to explain to first responders or shelter staff that you as a caregiver, must stay with your Type 1 son or daughter so that you can provide the support they require to maintain their health. Also, be prepared to show others how to operate your son's monitor, syringes and\or pump.

    In the emergency services community, first responder personnel keep their most important items in a Go Kit. Depending on your needs, items for your Go Kit may include:




    *Since a disaster my also strike the Financial networks, consider having a reasonable supply of cash on hand in case ATMs do not work and credit cards are not being accepted.

    This is of course just a generalized overview. You will need to tailor your Emergency Plan to your situation. A good place to get more info is at Ready.Gov


    Lastly, don't be tempted to raid these items for a trip or when sending your son to a sleep over or to grandmas for the weekend; unless of course, these items are about to expire. In that case, go ahead and pack what you need but as your child waves goodbye, get on the phone to the pharmacy and re-order fresh supplies.

    Good luck, get started and be prepared!




Published On: September 13, 2010