Preparing for a Hurricane When You Have a Lung Condition
Hurricane season in the Atlantic (which runs from June to November) has in the past, impacted millions and thus put many Americans on high alert during this time every year. Just a couple of days ago the New York Post reported, “Hurricane season may be more turbulent than usual with as many as nine severe storms expected to develop in the Atlantic region this year, according to experts.” In my own experience, the impact of hurricane Isabel left my family without power for 11 days in 2003. In Richmond, VA we aren’t located directly on the coast, but the devastation left by this particular storm lasted months later. As I sit here thinking about recent hurricanes my thoughts go to places like the Jersey Shore, New Orleans, and Houston just to name a few. I think that we can all appreciate and respect the strength of a major hurricane but are we prepared for it? Having a lung condition adds another level to the complexity of preparing for these storms and so today I wanted this blog post to be catered to the “extra” things that you need to do to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters when you are living with chronic lung disease. During this blog post, I am going to link some wonderful resources for disaster planning that everyone should check out. Be sure to look out for those as well.
So, without further ado let’s get into Preparing for a Hurricane When You Have a Lung Condition.
Should you stay or should you go?
Once you have determined the answer to this question here are my recommendations:
If you decide to go…
· Make sure that you bring a copy of your current prescriptions with you. Your time away is up in the air so you may have to refill prescriptions while you are gone, and your doctor could be unreachable for prescription renewals if your area is directly impacted. If you fill your prescriptions at a store that is part of a national chain, you may not need to bring copies of your prescriptions with you as those chains can be easily assessible in other areas.
· Bring a copy of your homeowners’ insurance with you so that if needed it is easily accessible.
· Fill your gas tank. When an evacuation is ordered the highways and roads will be crowded and the possibility of traffic jams goes up exponentially. Make sure you don’t get in a bind with being low on gas as you wait for traffic to clear up.
· Have plenty of oxygen available in the car. Bring extra tanks and/or batteries for your concentrator. Know if you are able to use your oxygen at lower flows while as rest in order to conserve tanks and/or concentrator battery.
· Keep your medicines an arm’s length away. Make sure you can easily get to your rescue inhaler and other medications that you might need to utilize on your trip. Don’t pack them up in your trunk amongst your other items making them hard to get to when you need them.
· Bring your cell phone (and a cable for charging it) so that you can stay in contact with your loved ones during your trip. Consider a portable battery pack to charge your cell phone if you have to turn off your car to conserve gas.
· Bring water with you in the car to stay hydrated. Unfortunately, a big portion of hurricane season occurs during the hottest months of the year. Make sure you have plenty to last you if it should take an extended amount of time to get to your destination due to heavy traffic on the roads. Consider bringing food or snacks to curb hunger and prevent extra stops.
· Have a couple of alternate routes planned. This will help to give you some options if traffic out of your area is extremely congested. Stay calm during traffic backups. Increased anxiety can cause you to feel more short of breath.
· Take occasional breaks to stand and stretch to prevent blood clots or DVTs. When you are able to stop, walk around for a bit to encourage circulation in the legs.
· Keep the temperature in your vehicle adequate for breathing. Keeping the windows up will reduce the effect that fumes and exhaust can have on your breathing. Using the air conditioner to reduce humidity and keep the air cool and dry will help you to breathe more comfortably as you travel to your destination.
If you should decide to STAY during a hurricane…
For a complete list of things that you need to prepare for a hurricane I recommend that you review this wonderful resource put out by the American Red Cross. CLICK HERE
Or you can check out the Department of Homeland Security’s list HERE
Here are some supplies that I feel the lung patient should definitely consider:
· Water – current recommendations are one gallon per person, per day. (Have at least 2 weeks’ worth)
· Food – Keep in mind you probably won’t have power for some time so anything that is shelf stable that doesn’t need cooking are great things to include. Remember to have a manual can opener available.
· Medications – enough doses to last 2 weeks. Consider using inhalers (with spacer) in place of nebulizer medications when possible. Remember you can use oxygen to run nebulizers in a pinch if needed. Battery powered nebulizers are a great option for emergency and travel purposes.
· Oxygen – If you are on supplemental oxygen, make sure you have a way to administer oxygen if you should lose power and can’t run your home concentrators. Have a backup of oxygen tanks or extra batteries for portable concentrators if you should need an alternate form of getting your oxygen. Make sure that you have a portable supply of oxygen if you should need to be evacuated. Call your home oxygen supplier in advance of the storm to get an adequate supply to last you several days.
· Extra tubing and supplies for oxygen, nebulizer, and CPAP machines. I think that it is always good practice to have 1-2 extra of all of your disposable medical equipment. Tubing can easily be compromised by being punctured or cut. Also keep in mind that it may be hard to clean equipment properly so keep plenty of cleansing wipes available as well as extra distilled water for CPAP and oxygen humidification. Other equipment that you may want “extra”: oxygen regulators, washers for oxygen tanks, and tank keys
· First aid kit – Power outages are a prime time for falls, cuts, bumps, and scrapes to happen. With no power and low light accidents can happen. Be able to tackle minor emergencies with a basic first aid kit.
· Have a list of emergency contact numbers. This list should not only include relatives and friends, but home owners insurance policy number and contact info. Keep health insurance cards handy as well.
· Keep your cell phone charged. Consider an external battery pack to charge your phone if you are without power for several days. Some of my friends tease me in “the age of cell phones” that I still have a land line. We have kept our land line for cases such as this where we needed a phone that doesn’t need to be plugged into electricity to work. The cost of a land line these days is minimal and a good back-up/emergency plan for communication.
· Battery powered radio for up to date communication regarding weather conditions and evacuations.
· Plenty of batteries for flashlights and other equipment.
· Sanitation and personal hygiene supplies. In the event that you lose power you must be able to continue to keep yourself and your living space fairly clean. Have a stock of premoistened cleansing cloths, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes for surfaces, trash bags in various sizes, and paper products like paper towels and toilet paper. Keeping things as clean as you can will help reduce the chance of infections and illness during a natural disaster.
Other things to consider doing to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters when you have a lung condition
· Consider a whole house generator. I definitely know that these things are pricey and quite the investment but the peace of mind that you get when you have a generator installed is infinite especially when you are on oxygen 24/7.
· Let neighbors, friends, and family know if you plan to stay at home and weather the storm. Communicating with others that you are planning to hunker down will remind them to check on you during and after the storm.
· Notify your power company that you have a lung condition and/or wear oxygen. This may not prevent you from losing your power during a hurricane or natural disaster, but it will put you on a priority list for restoration of service.
· Train your family members to help you with switching out your oxygen devices (i.e. tanks). Family and loved ones often want to help but don’t exactly know how to “jump in.” Let them know the ways in which they can assist you during the storm.
· If you live in a group setting like an independent living facility or group home. Find out what emergency preparations they are making and what evacuations plans that they have in place if an emergency should arise. Don’t just assume that they have things figured out.
You can find more information on hurricanes and how to prepare for them at www.ready.gov
Also, I love the comprehensive info that the COPD foundation put out for hurricane preparedness. Check out this info as well regardless if COPD is your diagnosis or not… it’s good stuff.
Thanks for reading!
Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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