Protect Your Health: Important Disaster Preparedness Tips for Harvey and Irma

Protect Your Health: Important Disaster Preparedness Tips for Harvey and Irma

September 6, 2017

It’s clear that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey and Irma, bring dangerous and destructive winds, rain and flooding. But the greatest threats of a natural disaster are not always immediately apparent. Harvey didn’t just destroy homes, stores and roads; the storm dismantled critical safety nets that we rely on every day, particularly for our health and medicines.

Hurricane Irma is poised to make an even larger hit on our health care infrastructure. That’s why it’s crucial to create a disaster preparedness plan for your health care needs – before, during and after a state of emergency. While it’s impossible to predict everything during a natural disaster, the following tips will prevent many life-threatening situations before they occur.

  1. Prepare and plan your medicines. Bring all current prescription medicines and medical supplies with you and store them in a waterproof bag. Use Rx On the Run to stay on top of prescribing and dosage information and make sure you have a sufficient supply. During emergencies, many states, such as Texas and Florida, allow pharmacists to re-prescribe up to a 30-day supply without a doctor’s signature, so be sure to check your state government’s laws and regulations and plan ahead.
  2. Mind your chronic conditions. Many chronic diseases require consistent attention, and during a natural disaster access to necessary medicine or medical equipment is far from guaranteed. It’s best to bring medical equipment with you, if possible, and stay in touch with emergency responders and/or the closest available health care provider. Many organization have specific tips for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, asthma, heart disease and others.
  3. Beware of contaminated water. Flooding causes the water from reservoirs, sewage lines, and septic tanks to intermingle. Even the water from your kitchen sink may be contaminated. It’s best to drink bottled water and to always boil or disinfect water before using it to clean clothes or dishes. Open wounds are also at high risk of infection, so keep them covered and stay out of floodwater, whenever possible.
  4. Stay aware of your closest health resources. An unexpectedly blocked road or sudden injury can complicate any plan, but unpredictable factors can be catastrophic for one’s health condition, particularly for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with disabilities. Be aware of the closest provider, pharmacy and emergency department. Rx Open, a tool from Healthcare Ready, provides a map of the closest open pharmacies, with daily updates to ensure displaced patients can access medicine they need when they need it.

Your prescription medicines or the closest hospital may not be the first thing to come to mind during a natural disaster, especially when bare essentials such as food, water and shelter aren’t even guaranteed. But these tips, and other resources from Healthcare Ready, can prevent future health complications and be the difference between life or death in the uncertain and dangerous environment of a natural disaster.

Sarah Baker, MPP

Sarah Baker is the Programs Manager at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she provides a wide range of policy research, writing, and analytical support to the organization's preparedness initiatives. Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises. Sarah recently received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.