Preparing for the Unexpected with Chronic Disease: Disaster Prevention

Posted on October 16, 2017 by kerri
As I write this on September 22, the following natural disasters have hit in just the last four weeks:
  • Hurricane Harvey (August 17/25 to September 3, 2017) [1]
  • Earthquake in Mexico – 8.2 magnitude (September 7, 2017) [2]
  • Hurricane Irma (August 30 to September 15, 2017) [3]
  • Hurricane Jose (September 5, 2017—ongoing at time of writing) [4]
  • Hurricane Katia (September 8-9, 2017) [5]
  • Hurricane Maria (September 20—ongoing at time of writing) [6]
  • While there are many wildfires occurring throughout the United States and Canada, wildfires are not classified as natural disasters—despite that they are most often caused naturally by a lighting strike. [7]
first aid red cross on white background with heartbeat tracing in white overlaid
Hurricanes are not human-caused disasters. However, their impacts may be worsened by human impacts on the Earth. And the reality is, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were made worse by the impacts of climate change. [8] Today, October 13, is the International Day for Disaster Reduction. The United Nations states that there are no “natural disasters, only natural hazards”, which turn into disasters when unchecked. [9] Per the UN, earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones (which include typhoons and hurricanes) are classified as natural hazards whose impacts may be reduced or prevented. [9, 9.1]
Prevention either exists through preventing the disaster itself or minimizing the impact on communities. For example, knowing the history of an area and its past natural disasters, and understanding danger zones, can help in saving lives during an emergency. [10] Recently in California, I noted the tsunami warning signs on the beach, that advised beachgoers to seek higher ground in the event of an earthquake. This is done through risk mapping, a process to help cities and communities identify places of safety and shelter.
In addition to preventing natural disasters, people living in high-risk areas of natural disasters can be prepared to manage their chronic medical conditions during an emergency. [10] This may mean being prepared with backup medications and supplies at all times, if there is not a typical disaster season in your area. As stress, hunger, dehydration, extreme temperature changes and infection exposure and onset can rapidly worsen chronic disease control, being prepared is crucial. [11] Early evacuation may be recommended for some groups, such as people with diabetes who require access to temperature regulated storage condition for insulin or people with other injected medications that need to be stored at an appropriate temperature. [11] People with respiratory disease like asthma or COPD should have medications on hand to outlast the storm, and for people with COPD using oxygen, arrangements should be made for extra supplies ahead of time. Depending on type of disaster, the environment may become even more unsafe for those with breathing problems. [11] People with chronic kidney disease who require dialysis should have a back-up plan in place, and have a back-up center identified that they can go to for treatment. [11] As well, they should have instructions for how to manage their condition if dialysis is postponed. In all cases, having backup prescriptions on file at the pharmacy (preferably a chain pharmacy if evacuation is necessary) is recommended. [11]
A medical ID bracelet can help identify your medical condition and needs if your health has deteriorated by the time you can seek medical attention.

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