How to Prepare Yourself for an Emergency Situation

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro
  • Every media resource has been saturated with the dire circumstances in Haiti after the Earthquake on January 12. Despite multidisciplinary personnel and aid from all over the world, healthcare providers are extremely concerned about both the immediate and later consequences that will occur after this natural disaster. All charitable organizations, including health organizations (American Diabetes Association, Doctors without Borders, The American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are just a few examples) are responding to the crisis.


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    I can't help thinking about those people that are most vulnerable in situations such as these--the young, the aged, and those with chronic medical conditions who require medication or equipment. What about those children and adults who need medicine to survive? What about those who have insulin dependant diabetes and need daily insulin injections? My understanding is that the city hospital is not functional; I doubt that many people have access to dispensaries, and if homes are destroyed it is unlikely that families will be able to rely on their personal supplies of insulin. It is very possible that many may not survive because they have no access to insulin. I am hopeful that medical support will be arriving as soon as feasibly possible and that those requiring medication to survive will be cared for immediately.


    Unlike hurricanes, winter storms and tornados (in some cases), earthquakes occur without warning. I know. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1989 quake about 70 miles north of the epicenter. Fortunately, despite the fact that the Loma Prieta earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, it was because of the Bay Area World Series and an abundance of earthquake-proof buildings, many lives were saved. Keep in mind that the Haitian earthquake measured at 7.0 on the Richter scale, similar to the LP quake; however, due to the lack of appropriate building safeguards, many lives were lost.


    How does one prepare for the unexpected? How does one prepare especially if you or a family member has a chronic illness that requires a ready supply of medication or equipment? After living in California for 12 years, I learned that earthquake preparedness is taught very early on to school aged children. Those families that have lived in the Bay area, for the most part, have developed strategies to deal with the very real prospect of a "big one." Indeed, most of us had supplies available in case we had to leave the area quickly. In my opinion, the answer to "how does one prepare for the unexpected" is redundancy. As part of our routine general pediatric visits (and diabetes specialty visits) we provide anticipatory guidance that included earthquake preparedness as well as how to handle unpredictable emergencies.



    1. Make sure you have enough food supplies and potable water for several days (canned goods etc.) for every family member (including pets).
    2. Ensure that your health records (or copies) are on hand.
    3. Have available ALL medications in a safe place. (If they do not require refrigeration, many of us placed supplies in large covered trash cans outside our homes.) In terms of insulin: your current vials or pens do NOT need to be refrigerated; therefore your diabetes related supplies should be on hand at all times: including insulin vials, pens, glucose meter, strips, glucagon, lancets, glucose tablets).
    4. Have extra medication and supplies available in the workplace, at school, daycare, and if possible, in other family members home (or neighbors). REDUNDANCY!
    5. Keep labels on all prescriptions.
    6. Program the phone number of your healthcare team into your cell phone or have the number immediately available.
    7. Inform all family members of a potential meeting place outside of the devastated area in advance.
    8. Provide a contact phone number outside the area code (even another state) to inform others that you are safe or need help.
    9. Make sure that you have supplies in your car. Make sure you refresh your supplies and that you do not become complacent.
    10. Think ahead of time what to do in case of the unexpected. And be prepared to act.


  • Please check with agencies that need your support to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Clearly assistance will be necessary over the long haul as the infrastructure is rebuilt and medical care is provided.

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Published On: January 26, 2010