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Hurricane

Diabetes and Natural Disasters: Are You Prepared?

By Nancy Gal, Family & Consumer Sciences  Extension Agent IV at UF/IFAS Extension Marion County
Reviewed by Linda B. Bobroff, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Whenever the power goes out, my first concern is my lifeline: insulin. Having lived with type 1 diabetes for nearly 30 years, I owe my life to insulin and Frederick G. Banting and John Macleod, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 for its discovery. It’s critical for me to be sure I always have an adequate supply of insulin, and a way to keep it safe and temperature-controlled. That means I don’t wait until an emergency occurs before preparing an emergency kit. I make sure I have all the necessities that everyone else needs–plus my diabetes medications and supplies.

Remember, unsafe changes in blood glucose levels can lead to low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) as well as high blood glucose (hyperglycemia). Both conditions can lead to serious health problems requiring medical assistance. This could be hard to come by if roads are impassable. Since I live in Florida, hurricanes are my main concern, but for those in other parts of the country, blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, or flooding can also create problems.

The Key to Preparing

So, for all those living with diabetes: are you prepared? It doesn’t matter what type of diabetes you have: a natural disaster or other emergency can quickly turn your life upside down and throw your daily diabetes self-management schedule out the window. As you plan, think about your typical day: what and when you eat, your medication schedule, your planned physical activity…all those things you do to help keep your blood glucose levels in a safe range, and yourself out of “medical trouble.”

The main key to disaster planning is to make sure you have a written emergency plan and a portable supply kit. This will ensure that you have access to health care, medications, diabetes supplies, and safe food and water. Be sure a family member or friend knows the location of your emergency plan and supply kit in case you need help and cannot access them yourself. Here are six goals to keep in mind when creating your emergency plan and supply kit.

  1. Prevent very high blood glucose.
  2. Stay well hydrated.
  3. Prevent low blood glucose.
  4. Prevent infection.
  5. Maintain a normal medication schedule.
  6. Maintain a normal meal and snack plan.

What Goes in the Written Emergency Plan?

Your written emergency plan should contain current information and be stored with your portable supply kit. Here are key items to include in your plan.

  • Emergency contact list (including health care providers, pharmacist, family, and friends)
  • Written medication plan (name of medicine, dosage, and administration)
  • Written meal and snack plan (food groups and carbohy­drate choices per meal)
  • Extra copies of prescriptions

What Goes in the Portable Supply Kit?

Your portable supply kit should contain at least a two-week supply of all your diabetes supplies, a 30-day supply of all medications to include active prescriptions and eligible refills, and a three-day supply (at least) of drinking water and food that does not require refrigeration. All items should be stored in an insulated and waterproof portable container. Here are some diabetes supplies that you might need to include in your kit (some are only for people who take insulin).

  • Blood glucose meter and strips; extra batteries
  • Urine ketone testing strips
  • Lancing device and lancets
  • Syringes and/or pen needles
  • Alcohol and cotton swabs
  • Medical/first aid supplies such as topical medications, bandages, dressings, tape, etc., to
  • treat minor injuries
  • Quick-acting carbohydrate (glucose tablets or gel, hard candy, raisins, etc.)
  • Longer-lasting carbohydrate (crackers, ultra high tem­perature [UHT] milk packs, etc.)
  • Glucagon emergency kit
  • Empty hard plastic bottle with cap to dispose of sharp objects such as used lancets and syringes
  • Cooler with sufficient freezer cold packs for storing insulin

Finally, no matter what your treatment plan, it is critical that you identify yourself as a person with diabetes. I am an advocate for helping people live well with diabetes. So when we can’t speak for ourselves, visible identification such as a medical identification bracelet can communicate to others, especially emergency medical personal, that we have diabetes and how to care for us.

(Photo credit: Florida–Hurricane Frances Approaching (2004) by Roger WollstadtCC BY 2.0.)

Further Reading

Diabetes Care During Natural Disasters, Emergencies, and Hazards–from the CDC