Emergency Preparedness With A Chronic Illness

Lene Andersen | Aug 30, 2017

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Getting ready for a potential emergency such as a hurricane, tornado, or blackout involves planning ahead in several different areas of your life. Some of your emergency plan will be the same as your healthy and able-bodied neighbors, but you will also need to make plans that specifically address your chronic illness.

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Make sure you have an emergency kit

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Everyone should have an emergency kit. This will help you and your family survive on your own until the worst of the disaster is over. Or, if necessary, until officials or relief workers can arrive to assist you. It is generally recommended that your kit include enough supplies so that you and your family can survive for at least three days (72 hours).

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What’s in an emergency kit

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Your emergency kit should include one gallon of water per person, per day — half for drinking, half for cleaning, cooking, and sanitation. Include non-perishable food, flashlights, extra batteries, candles and matches, a first aid kit, and a battery-powered or hand crank radio. Add food and water for your pets as well. FEMA’s website has a list of additional items for the kit. If your condition affects your hands, include a battery-operated can opener to make sure you can open canned food.

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Emergency kit for medical conditions

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If you have a medical condition, make sure that your kit has at least a three-day supply of your medication and any medical supplies you use. Keep the medication in the original containers from a past prescription that shows both the name of your doctor and your pharmacy. You should also keep a list of your doctors and their contact information as well as a copy of any medical documentation you have. Be sure to include contact information for your next of kin or power of attorney.

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Opioids in emergency kits

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If you take opioids for chronic pain and have signed a treatment agreement that outlines a specific way to take your meds, it can be difficult to set extra medication aside. This could not only impact your pain levels during an emergency, but also put you at risk for going into withdrawal. Talk to your doctor about how to make sure your emergency kit includes the medication you need. You may also want to include a copy of your treatment agreement.

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Preparing your home

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When the weather forecast promises bad weather, your first step is to make sure that fallen leaves aren’t blocking important areas. Clear window wells, outdoor stairwells, gutters, and storm drains so water can flow freely. Are the trees on your property healthy, or do certain branches look like they’re ready to snap off? If you have patio furniture or decorations that could turn into projectiles in a strong wind, put them inside.

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Communication equipment

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Make sure you have a phone that works — a corded, non-modem landline can be especially important for people with a chronic illness or disability. Cordless phones rely on electricity to work, and cell phones run out of battery. Moreover, cell networks can get overwhelmed in emergencies. During the Northeast blackout of 2003, I was very happy that I had a basic phone that just plugged into a wall jack. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with anyone.

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Prepare by charging

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If there’s advanced warning of a situation that could turn into an emergency, make sure everything that needs charging is fully charged. This includes your cell phone, toothbrush, laptop, and — if you use a mobility aid — your wheelchair or scooter. Keep a charged car battery in your home to power motorized equipment. Talk to the company that services your mobility equipment for tips on how to manage during a period of no electricity. If you live in a house, consider getting a generator.

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Create a support network

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Does your condition mean that you need help during an emergency? Set up a support network well in advance. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and service providers so you have a backup in case of emergency. Make sure that more than one person you trust has a key to your home and a plan about how they can help you.

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Accessible shelters

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If you have mobility problems, investigate which shelters in your area are equipped to deal with these issues. This can mean whether the shelter is accessible and has access to a power source to charge scooters and wheelchairs. Know how to get there. Most areas have a disability-specific emergency preparedness plan for people with disabilities, and this could be particularly helpful if you have limited mobility. You can find more information about this topic on the CDC website.

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Take care

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Hunkering down in an emergency and not knowing what’s going to happen is unnerving. With some emergencies, you have time to get ready. Others, such as the Northeast blackout in 2003, can happen without warning. Making sure you’re prepared can help you get through the experience with a bit less stress. Should you be in an emergency, please take care of yourself and, if you can, check in on your neighbors.

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