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  • Writer's pictureChristina Hunt

Emergency Preparedness for Snowstorms: Recommendations for People with Lung Conditions

Emergency Preparedness for Snowstorms: Recommendations for People with Lung Conditions

My daughter’s childcare center often teases me that when they see the first flake of snow, they know that I’m on my way to pick her up. I get anxiety being out on the roads when winter weather rolls around. For my friends up in the North, you may not feel the degree of anxiety that I have but I can tell you it really throws me into a tailspin. Well, low and behold Richmond had its first snow fall of the winter on Sunday and our little town was blanketed with that powdery white stuff. I can tell you that our meteorologists often get it right and/or many times over estimate our snow accumulations but this time (for many reasons I have heard) underestimated our snow total and what was estimated at 5-8 in became 15 in. Many times in the past I would have sat on my couch and worried when would be the next time I would be able to get out of my home, or are we going to lose our power, or if I had enough food in the house to prepare for my family…but not this time. I really got to enjoy the smiles on my children’s faces as they played in the snow as it was coming down and watch a holiday movie with my family and listen to the belly laughs coming from my boys. This time, I was prepared and I want you as my readers to feel a sense of peace just like I did. So here are my personal recommendations for emergency preparedness during a snowstorm.

Things that you should to have on hand:

1. Cash- I always recommend you having a stash of petty cash on hand in your home. Sure, most things these days take credit card, PayPal, Venmo etc. but there is nothing like having cold hard cash if you should need it and can’t get by a bank. Keep it in a safe place but have a bit of money on hand.

2. Prescription medications- You should always have enough of your prescription medications on hand to get you through 1-2 weeks of time. I recommend to many of my patients that are going out of town (and I would say a snowstorm that could leave you potentially in your home for a week a "staycation") having a backup prescription on hand of antibiotics. If you start having a flare-up and can’t get to your pulmonologist office due to road or weather conditions, you could start taking an antibiotic right away. Most pulmonologists would prefer you being safe than sorry and will give you a prescription for the antibiotic to use in a pinch, but they typically want to be notified if you start taking them so make sure you give them a call if need be. And while we are talking about prescriptions, make sure you always have a list of your medications that you take if you need emergent care.

3. First Aid Kit – This is a must have in any home. I’m often surprised how many homes are lacking basic first aid items like: gauze, medical tape, adhesive bandages, skin ointment, etc. This one is similar to what we have in our own home. (This is a suggestion only. I use Amazon for EVERYTHING so it was easy to just screenshot the image so that you could see exactly what I was referring to in this blog. Feel free to click on the image to check out other options from Amazon.) Also, I want to mention that if you feel as though you are coming down with an infection or flare-up of sorts and you know there is bad weather expected, please see your physician right away. Even though it many seem like there is a lot to do, your health comes first and being evaluated by your doctor before it is hard to leave your home will give you peace of mind.

4. Extra Batteries – stock up on any batteries that can be used in your flashlights, radios, lanterns, etc.

5. Flashlights / lanterns – my husband had the wonderful idea of buying not only battery powered flashlights but flashlights that are continuously charging when plugged in. The cool thing about these other flashlights (and we have them everywhere in our home) is that put on a certain setting they illuminate when the power goes out. Needless to say in the event of a power outage it is very simple to find a flashlight that works. We also keep a handful of regular flashlights on hand that are powered by battery as well. (This is the one we have in our home. Feel free to click on the image to check it out on Amazon, but again my purpose was to show you exactly what we use.)

The other thing I bought recently that I love are these collapsible lanterns. They are super bright and can really illuminate an entire room. Super handy if you don’t want a bunch of candles lit if you wear oxygen. I bought these to prepare for a power outage. They are light, they take double AA batteries, and their collapsible feature makes them easy to store. (The photo below is exactly what we ordered. You can click on the image to see more details. I saw when doing research for this blog that Amazon also has a 4 pack but 2 of these works well for our home.)

6. Food (Canned and Dry) – So regardless of snowstorm or not... everyone should keep nonperishable food items in their homes. Make sure you have a combination of proteins like canned chicken and tuna or jerky, legumes (like beans and nuts), canned vegetables and fruits, and starches (like rice and pasta). Having food stores will eliminate the panic of getting a ton of items from the store. In fact if you should lose power, your perishables will do just that (perish) in a matter of days if you don’t have a generator to keep your refrigerator cool. Having a backup plan for food could really come in handy. Check the dates on your can goods and replace them periodically if they go past their expiration date.

7. Water – bottled water for drinking is a must have if you get your water via a well and don’t have a generator to power your well pump in the event of a power outage. As far as I know, water doesn’t go “bad” as long as it is sealed properly so keep plenty on hand. Making sure you drink plenty of water is a must when you have a lung condition and in the winter the heat in your home is very drying. Drink plenty even if you don't feel the urge that you are thirsty.

8. Battery operated radio to listen to local news and weather. It can help you to save cell phone power and just may give you some entertainment as well.

9. Pet Essentials (i.e. food) – don’t forget about our fur babies and keep their food well stocked. We often overlook that our four-legged friends need just a bit of prep too, and there is no doubt how bad you would feel if you ran out of food for man’s best friend.

10. Manual Can Opener – I can see it now…”Christina had me stock up on all these can goods but how do I open them if the power is out?” Well folks, you need a manual can opener. Please keep one stocked (and in working condition) in your kitchen and easily accessible.

11. Extra gas on hand – If you have a generator, you are going to need gas to run it. Prior to the weather arriving make sure you have extra gas on hand to refuel your generator. If you don’t use it all you can always put it in the tank of your car to be used after to storm. You don’t want the stored gas to get old because if may not be effective in powering your generator (or anything else.)

12. Matches/lighter – to start fires in the fireplace or woodstove to heat home in case of power loss. ****If on oxygen, please DO NOT get near any flame!!!****

13. Fire wood (for above)

14. Disposable Eating Utensils and Plates – You can use these to cut down on dishes

15. Fire Extinguisher – You should always have one or more of these in your home to extinguish any fires regardless of snow storm or not. Many people use candles to provide light and fireplaces and wood stoves for heat and well... accidents can happen.

16. Extra supplies for breathing condition. Do you give yourself nebulizer treatments? If so, think about having a battery powered nebulizer machine. These battery powered nebulizers are not only great during power outages but can be also used during travel. You an also give yourself a nebulizer treatment using an oxygen tank. Have extra nebulizer parts on hand in case it doesn't seem to be working properly. If wearing oxygen or using CPAP have extra supplies if needed (like cannulas, masks, and tubing). Replacing oxygen equipment should be done routinely so have extra stock of these items wouldn't be unnecessary.

OPTIONAL things to have on hand or to think about

1. Battery pack or power inverter to use with your car. Mann Americans have gotten rid of their landlines and gone with using a cell phone for their primary means of phone communication. I bought this battery pack for my husband to charge his cell phone when he went camping, but we can use it in a pinch in the event of power loss to charge phones and devices. I also like the flashlight feature and the face that it can be charged by the sun (however, most reviews online for all of these solar chargers say that recharging by the sun takes a LONG time). It is small and can easily be stored away with the rest of your emergency supplies.

2. Extra batteries for personal oxygen concentrators - Many of my patients don’t have home generators so the option of having extra batteries and chargers gives them peace of mind. They can be costly to purchase so you can check into preowned batteries on Craigslist or EBay.

3. Have an alternate plan - If you know you may be stuck for a week or more, consider leaving early to take a trip or visit family or friends that are not in the area of impact.

4. Have a letter of necessity on file with your power company - Did you know that if you have a medical condition like wearing oxygen that you may be able to fill out a form or letter and submit it to your power company to make you a priority during power outages for restoration. This may help to determine when there are scattered outages who needs power restored first. An exception to this would be when there are massive power outages and the power company is trying to restore power to densely populated areas.

5. Generator - I have mentioned "generator" several times and if you can swing it financially, they can really give you peace of mind. Whole house generators are AWESOME because they are wired into your home and automatically come on when there is a loss of power. The drawback is that they are pricey and are quite an investment for that peace of mind. They also make some portable generators that have pull and push button start to them. These models are less expensive than the whole house models and can be very effective in powering lights, refrigerators, well pumps, etc. We purchased one years ago and it powers the essentials which is very convenient with a house full of kiddos.

6. Do not leave the safety of your home and drive when the roads are potentially dangerous unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. Getting suck in a major traffic jam or sliding off the road can put you in a position when you could potentially run low on oxygen, gas, etc. The bitter cold air often causes bronchospasm in people with lung conditions. Stay safe and stay in your home. If an emergency happens, call a rescue squad. Don't try to brave the road conditions on your own.

Things to Do Right Before the Snowstorm:

1. Fill your tub with water. If your home is supplied by a well, you may feel that extra water in the tub can be used to flush toilets, etc.

2. Test your home generator (if you have one)

3. Communicate with oxygen provider. You may want to see if they can give you a few extra cylinders to have on hand. Having extra cylinders will give you more oxygen to use as a backup in the event you lose power. Know your minimum oxygen flow rate. Could you get by with 1-2 liters per minute less in a pinch if you aren't moving around too much. Remember in the event that you are starting to run low on oxygen and your oxygen supplier isn't able to get any cylinders to you, you will then need to get to a hospital.

4. Have someone lined up to shovel your walkways and outside steps. When most of the snow is melted on the roads, a few of my patients are often still trapped in their homes due to icy walkways and steps leading out of their homes. If a family member or friend would be willing to clear these areas for you, it would help you to get up and out sooner.

5. Buy your perishable items – remember, don’t break the bank on your perishable items. Just get what you would normally use for a few days.

6. Fill the gas tank in your car

During the snowstorm

1. Keep phones and computers charged

2. Be watchful of your oxygen if you have to use a fireplace… stay away from any open flame.

3. Enjoy the snow coming down! You can relax. What needed to be done was done… now you get to enjoy.

*** Remember to stay off the roads during hazardous weather conditions. ***

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