Diabetes Disaster Planning

Part of living with diabetes means being prepared for emergencies.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.

Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

January 2008 —My children recently began attending a new school for which all of us had to adjust to new schedules, routines, and requirements. I found that my youngest, a kindergartner, needed to take a lot of things with him that weren't required in our old school – rain boots, separate gym clothes, slippers for the classroom, and a disaster kit.

A disaster kit. My heart raced at the thought. Patiently, the teacher explained that the must contain a complete change of clothes, a photo of the entire family, and detailed contact information not only for his parents but for relatives and friends of the family who live out-of-state and even outside the U.S. The thought of preparing such a collection was hardly encouraging, ranking only with making a will in terms of the overall feel-good factor.

In our geographic area, many people also have disaster kits at home, containing whatever they believe will be essential for survival in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Typically, canned food, water, flashlights, hygiene supplies, batteries, a radio, blankets, extra clothing, and matches make everyone's list. Along the same lines, drivers are recommended to keep fuel tanks at least half full at all times if possible. It was sobering to realize that in making a disaster survival kit, my diabetes would necessitate some extra planning. My thoughts flashed back to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which affected hundreds of thousands of people living with diabetes.

Those living with diabetes or other chronic conditions need to add some items to that list of essentials. In any emergency, I'm going to need to have convenient access to both medications and medical information. Copies of insurance cards and prescriptions; or at the very least, a list of medications and dosages, are essential. I'll need to keep a backup source of insulin somewhere where I can retrieve it easily, along with some sterile wipes, syringes, a glucometer, test strips, and at least a few days' worth of other prescription meds. Both short-acting (glucose tablets) and longer-acting sources of carbohydrates also belong in the disaster preparedness kit for anyone living with diabetes. A cooler would be a good storage receptacle for these items, since it can be filled with cold packs in the event of an emergency and used to keep insulin cool if necessary.

Realistically speaking, a disaster of extreme proportions, of course, is a remote possibility rather than a likelihood. And should one occur, I like to assume that there would at least be ways to meet basic needs for food, water, and medicines. But if not, the expert sources I have checked vary in their recommendations for the amount of needed items one should stockpile at home. Some expert groups advise having enough medicine and nutrition for a few days (presumably until emergency response teams have been able to respond to the situation), while others recommend being able to remain self-sufficient for one to two weeks or more.

The American Red Cross, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies can provide help to make disaster planning easier. Risk assessments, emergency kit checklists, disaster plans, and other resources are all available online. It's even possible to purchase pre-assembled disaster kits from retailers if one wishes. I admit it isn't a pleasant topic to consider, but nevertheless a worthy one.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 24, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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