We were all stunned by the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey & Irma – the suffering and loss have been catastrophic. These monster storms are unreal. It’s not just the rain, wind and floods of hurricanes that cause so much devastation, it’s also earthquakes, landslides and fires. Out west where I live, there have been days when I’ve walked out in broad daylight, and had to squint to see through the haze from forest fires in nearby – or sometimes distant – areas. The fires currently burning in Oregon, Montana, and now here in Colorado are just too close for comfort. I felt compelled to write today’s article, which is about how to think through what to do in case of disaster.
You never know when severe weather will strike, you never know when you’ll have to jump in your car and evacuate… or if it’s a tornado, when you’ll have to rush down into your basement. I’m not recommending that you live in constant fear, but it is important to have a plan. Here’s what I think is most important.
1. Medications, health conditions & allergy list – Make a handwritten list and put it in your wallet. Even better (if you have the time) is to stick your prescription labels onto a sheet of paper so all your dosing information is shown. I’d also keep the list on your smartphone, in the Notes section or a devoted app.
When the power goes out, pharmacies can’t access your medication profile on the computer anymore. Your list allows rescuers, new pharmacists or paramedics to give you some pills or shots without computer access to your normal drug regimen. Keep it updated. One more thing, if you require inhalers to breathe, keep a backup in an emergency kit. You won’t have time to fumble through your house to find your regular inhaler in a true emergency.
If you have medications on Medicare, they have an area on their website devoted to helping you access your medications in a disaster: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/prescriptions-in-disaster-or-emergency.html
2. Emergency kit – You can buy some very nice ones on Amazon like the “First Aid 150 Piece by Protect Life” for $24.97 or from Costco, “Survival First Aid Kit in Black Ballistic Case” for 79.99.
You can also create your own kit. Most people think to include some bandages, water, batteries and a 3-day supply of their medication, but that might not be enough! If you only have an hour to pack it (knowing that a fire or tornado watch is in effect) then grab a ready-made kit, or if you have to make your own, then please keep things simple and think fast. Time is of the essence. Making a DIY First Aid kit requires a little time, but it can be customized to your needs. I’ll show you how to make your own right now.
DIY First Aid Kit
* A smart emergency kit will include an analgesic like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
* Hydrocortisone and antibiotic ointment for scratches and wounds
* A little blanket or large scarf just for warmth; a pair of socks for each person in the household is smart too.
* Toothbrushes and paste
* Small salt shaker (see my note below)
* Your walking cane if that applies
* Spare undies if you’re evacuating to a shelter
* Travel size deodorant
* A spare pair of eyeglasses or contacts and solution
* A whistle you can wear around your neck to call for help if it’s dark
* Non-perishable snacks like beef jerky, protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc.
* Spare keys to the car and the house
* A multi-purpose knife
* A water bottle
* Flashlights, candles and a lighter
* N95 or N100 mask
* Ziploc bags and toilet paper (in case you are stuck without access to a bathroom)
Note regarding the salt shaker listed above: I have a little personal salt shaker in my purse because I love “Real” salt, but it doubles as an electrolyte replenishment aid. If emergency strikes, you can always put a few shakes into plain water and restore electrolytes and energy within minutes.
If you have extra space in your DIY Kit, then definitely add more food and water; canned food is fine, but make sure you have a can opener. I also recommend those single unit containers of applesauce, fruit slices or even baby food packs.
3. Ziploc of frozen water – Fill a Ziploc with some pure water and freeze it. Keep several of these in the freezer and if you need to leave in a hurry grab them. While frozen, it can protect insulin, food or liquid antibiotics. As it melts, you’ll have pure water which you can drink in an emergency.
4. Medications – Some prescriptions come via mail-order, so order early, and don’t run out. The same principle applies to the pharmacy. If you are just about out, it might be too late to get your prescription refilled at the very last minute.
5. Portable Charger – Buy a portable cell phone charger (aka power bank) so when the power goes out, and you have no electricity, you can juice up your phone again. An old-fashioned radio is a good idea too – you can buy hand-crank, battery operated, or even solar-powered.
6. Caffeine pills – If you’re a regular coffee drinker and you’re stuck for hours on an evacuation road, or in your basement for longer than you expected, bite off a quarter or a half of one No-Doz pill (usually 200mg per pill) and this will keep you awake so you can call for help, and it will also prevent the headache associated with caffeine withdrawal which can be quite severe for regular coffee drinkers.
7. Dishwasher storage – Your dishwasher is waterproof so if you’re in a flood zone, you may be able to store precious photo albums and important documents inside your dishwasher. It’s completely sealed, so when the water recedes, your documents and albums will still be in good shape!
8. Loved ones list – I’m going old school on you! What if you are tired, in shock, or otherwise unable to speak, and need to remember a phone number or name? Oftentimes in disasters, you lose your cell phone, or it loses its charge. Let’s be honest, no one knows phone numbers by heart anymore, not even for their closest relatives… so if a rescuer wants to call your loved one or spouse to assure them of your safety and rescue, having this “Loved ones list” is invaluable. Write down everyone’s name, their relation to you, and their phone number. Put it in your Emergency Kit, and put another copy in your wallet or purse.
9. Activities for children – If you have kids, then keeping them occupied during scary storms is important. I lived in Florida for 35 years, and when a hurricane barreled through, I always made sure that my kids and I were involved in something fun, like a puzzle, coloring book, or earring-making or beading… or camping and building forts in the (safer) hallway. I wouldn’t tell them too much even if I was in terrible fear, because as kids, they just need to feel safe and loved. If you have room in your Emergency Kit, include crayons, a deck of cards or a little stuffed animal. These things sound small, but the comfort they would bring to a child is huge.
10. Dust mask – This may not apply in every disaster situation, but it deserves a mention. If you are in an area of a building that experiences damage to the roof or walls, even within a shelter, then having a dust mask to filter some of that contaminated air will come in handy. They weigh nothing and can be stored easily in a baggie. Regular masks won’t work in a smoky situation like wildfires. In that case, you’ll need one that filters out finer particles, such as an N95 or N100 mask, which are sold at hardware stores.
11. Pliers or wrench – These tools should be kept in the basement or garage, to have a little assistance if you are not strong enough to turn off utilities or water.
12. Pets – I think an extra supply of food for the pets would be good to store in your garage or basement. In a weather situation like a severe blizzard, during which you might be unable to get out of your driveway for a few days, you’ll be happy you stocked up on pet food.
13. Map – Keep an old fashioned map in your car. If you have to drive because of an immediate evacuation, and you can’t use GPS or your smartphone, then having that actual map will be a blessing. Just get in the car and drive to safety! Hey, you can put it on cruise and drive to Colorado and visit me! Just bring an N95 or N100 face mask because it’s smoky right now! 😉
14. Water – The discussion of water could take pages, so I will keep it short. Have water on hand. I don’t care if it’s bottled or tap (don’t be freaked out about the plastic fibers, okay?)
This is not the time to dehydrate yourself because you’re fretting over the type of water. As long as it’s clean, it’s drinkable. You can use any thermos, freeze clean water in Ziplocs as I mentioned above, or keep a Big Berkey Water Filter on your counter like I do! However you do it, create a water supply for the appropriate amount of time you and your family may be without water.
15. Cash – It’s smart idea to have some amount of cash on hand in case you are unable to access an ATM or your bank account for any reason.
There might be other things unique to your family, so think through what you literally can’t live without on a daily basis. Stay safe, everyone.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.