For every weather event and new lesson learned, it is easy for me to say, "I didn't think of that!" What follows are some of the new things I learned over the past decade that might be helpful with when planning for your family's safety for the next hurricane season.
BY LAURA GEORGE
Many of us remember watching the news and learning of Hurricane Michael's arrival and destructive departure. Sadly, many Floridians (including some of my friends) are still trying to pick up the pieces six months later. Despite all the aftermath seen, what strikes me most about the event is how many people are still unprepared for hurricanes and other types of disasters. According to a press release in 2015 on FEMA's website: "Only 39 percent of respondents have developed an emergency plan and discussed it with their household. This is despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans live in counties that have been hit with a weather related disaster since 2007, as reported by the Washington Post." (USDHS 2018).
When my husband and I first came down to Florida, we did not know anything about hurricanes. We were familiar with blizzards. Food, water, flashlights, blankets, and can openers were pulled out along with fun activities to keep busy with and then we hunkered down for a few days. Our learning curve with Hurricane Andrew when we moved to Florida was high and fast. We continued to add more to our preparedness plan and supplies. It was not until all utilities were lost during Hurricane Wilma, that we figured out it was possible to plug in a non-battery phone into the external house phone box, and that the phone lines would still work.
Later, when my husband acquired paralysis, a whole new list of things were added to our emergency preparedness kit. Catheters, wound supplies and an air pump for his power wheelchair cushion amongst other specific items became part of the new standard set of items to have in the kit. Now that my daughter has an autoimmune disorder with a list of allergies, I am still adding unique items to my preparedness kit to make sure her health needs are met. For every weather event and new lesson learned, it is easy for me to say, "I didn't think of that!" What follows are some of the new things I learned over the past decade that might be helpful with when planning for your family's safety for the next hurricane season.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY "I DIDN'T THINK OF THAT!"
To begin with, plan on your plan to fail. A simple example is planning to stay in a mobile home during a hurricane will mean certain doom. Instead, have several options to choose from when addressing where a safe haven would be best. It is important to consider having at least three places to stay during bad weather. The first is your current location. For most of us, this would be our home. But if a tree fell upon the center of it, we might then go a friend's house to stay. Upon arrival, there might be an issue with entrance into the home if there is no ramp for a wheelchair to access the front door. Not having thought of that, a drive to the nearest hotel might be considered. However, in a disaster, it is quite possible that all your neighbors might have the same idea. Will you be able to continue the journey to a safe haven that would accommodate your child? All of this should be discussed with your support system and researched beforehand instead of addressing the last-minute stress of not planning properly. If staying at home is the best option, make sure the hurricane shutters are put up. In Miami, Florida there is a Residential Shuttering Program ( www8.miamidade.gov/glob- al/emergency/hurricane/paint-and-shuttering program.page) that, if one qualifies will help people with disabilities, and the elderly put up their shutters if a hurricane comes.
It is not enough to just to bring your medication. It is important to pack a week's worth of medication (in its original packaging), in a container that will keep it safe at the correct temperature. Setting aside a week's worth of medication is possible if you contact your medical provider or health insurance company and ask them to fill an extra dose of the prescription to put into the emergency preparedness kit. The prescription could be only for a few days, a week, or maybe a month depending on what the purpose of the medication is for and how your insurance company or doctor will allow it to happen. Once filled it is generally on the premise that it will only be used once in the year. Again, depending on the medication's purpose, the insurance company and doctor, your mileage may vary. Some states have policies on this:
"Emergency prescription laws vary by state and have been passed in the following states: Ohio, Florida, Arkansas, Arizona, Wisconsin, Washington, Illinois, Idaho, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Utah, Oregon and Connecticut are pursing similar legislation." (Healy 2018) To see how other states address this, enter the topic, "Emergency Prescription Law" and the particular state on the same line.
Power outages always occur with hurricanes. Some life-saving medications require refrigeration which relies on power. If you have a small refrigerator, you can plug it into a UPS battery backup which is used to give extended power time to computers when there is power loss. Make sure that voltage needed by the refrigerator can work with the voltage on the battery backup. Make sure to pre-identify the number of hours the battery backup can itself work without power coming in to measure temperature reliability.
If keeping the medication cold without using power at all is of interest, then look into a cooling case that is water-activated and reusable, such as the one by Frio ( frioinsulincoolingcase.com/how-the-frio-insulin-cool- ing-case-works.html) which works with more than just diabetic supplies. Other technical life-saving needs might be technology that the child depends upon to breathe, eat, communicate or rely on to keep calm.
The UPS battery backup can also help with this situation, or purchasing a portable hand-held battery charger can help with this situation. Remember to note how many hours they will last for, that the correct cords are kept with it, and they are always kept charged, ready to use at a moment's notice. My suggestion would be to purchase one at least the size of your hand that costs about $30 and can last anywhere from about 10 to 20 hours. Purchasing them with two USB ports is even better. Just remember, the power will drain down faster. By contacting the local community addressing the child's diagnosis or local Center for Independent Living ( NCIL.org), you might learn of reimbursement programs or scholarships to help pay for supplies to keep safe in a disaster. It would be good to pursue this for oxygen concentrators or power chair batteries. (Side note: Include the model and serial numbers to all equipment, including power chairs, to enable replacement time to be more efficient and faster due to the details those numbers hold.)
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS/ INFORMATION
In addition to hurricanes, for any disaster, it is good to plan in terms of the scenario of the child not being able to speak for themselves and the parent not being around to help them.
Putting together any documentation that minimally describes the diagnosis, doctors, and medication is a good start. If you are not sure what type and how much medical information would be helpful to notate for others, you can check out my book, Emergency Preparedness Plan: A Workbook for Caregivers, People with Disabilities, the Elderly and Others ( amazon.com/dp/1795865679). Do not forget to include cultural or family concerns that would be specific to the family that are important for first responders to know. If a child senses familiarity with a topic from a first responder, then that will help set them at ease.
Besides writing down important information on a sheet of paper, or entering it on the computer, it could also be scanned and added onto a thumb drive placed onto a key chain. Another option that I read on the Internet recently, was to take a business card, put instructions on it (such as how to handle seizures) and laminate it. A caregiver friend of mine took their mother's health records and placed them onto a business card via a QR code (Free site: the-qrcode- generator.com) to hand out to paramedics. Another option is wearing medical jewelry where the diagnosis and additional information can be seen easily in an emergency. Choices can be from basic identification to beautiful or a technological option which embeds information into the jewelry that is accessed via a USB connection. Lauren's Hope ( lauren- shope.com) will gladly help with unique wording if needed. No matter how this information is gathered, make sure to put it somewhere safe and memorable, protected from wind or water, with a copy with a copy given to a trusted person outside the state.
A calm demeanor in preparation for the hurricane season will set a calm example for your child. Many children enjoy taking on the responsibility of packing things for them selves. This will give them high self-worth and enable them to feel important because of their participation in the family project of preparedness. Let them help decide what the family pet would need to be happy. Encourage them to pick out snacks, toys, flashlight (Remember batteries!), and clothing (a week's worth) that they would find comfort in when in a disaster. If they are capable, let them help you pack the medical tubing, medication, equipment and other things, to help encourage their confidence, and understanding of the importance of emergency preparedness. Let them learn about it in a fun way by visiting the "Kid's Game" section on ready.gov/kids/games. They are educational and fun! Reach out to the local emergency management office (sometimes located through the fire department) and ask when their hurricane preparedness fair will be. There are always items handed out that are great to add to the emergency preparedness kit and lots of fun activities for the kids to participate in.
Did you pause to think on some of the non-standard items I mentioned above? The most helpful emergency preparedness kits in a disaster have the items that most planning tools fail to mention. It is to this point that a good, helpful emergency preparedness kit must be built. One should never plan to put the entire kit together at one time and walk away. Understand that the kit is a living, breathing item in your home. For your child with disabilities, it may be your sole source of keeping them alive. The catch is that children grow up. The emergency preparedness kit you created should be constantly updated to keep up with their needs. This might mean that the listed shelter location changes, their medication needs have changed, their electrical power needs may be different, and the doctors or medicines used may need to be updated. The examples you establish when preparing the kit may help them live independently and prepare on their own for future disasters, whatever they may be.
What did I not think of when I first entered this field about 13 years ago? I never thought emergency preparedness could be so encompassing, easy to do, and extremely important to my family members who have disabilities. There were never any thoughts as to how much more families with disabilities have to gather to prepare for hurricane season, compared to those who do not have to address those issues. Most of all, I never thought I would collect volumes of stories to be shared with others, that are so deeply held in my heart about persons with disabilities who overcame and survived disasters. Yes, I didn't think of that! Take it from me: "Life isn't about the challenges you face: it's about the actions you perform after meeting those challenges."•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laura George is Emergency Management isability Liaison, National Center for Independent Living - Emergency Preparedness (NCIL-EP) Committee, Florida Statewide Independent Living Council / FB: Hurricane Michael Resources — ILC; Miracle Relief Collaboration League Disaster Assistance. She is an author, presenter, caregiver.
Healy, Deborah. "Advocating for Emergency Prescription Refills in Pennsylvania." T1International, T1International, Inc., 6 Mar. 2018, 15 April 2019 < t1international.com/blog/2018/03/06/advocating-emer- gency-prescription-refills-pennsylvania/>.Website addressing Type 1 diabetes in the United States and around the world. United States. Department of Homeland Security. Sixty Percent of Americans Not Practicing for Disaster: FEMA Urges Everyone to Prepare by Participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30 | FEMA.gov. 23 April 2015. 12:05. 16 April 2019 < fema.gov/news-release/2015/04/28/sixty-percent-ameri- cans-not-practicing-disaster-fema-urges-everyone-prepare.> Discussion about the numbers of people who have prepared an emergency plan.