Medical Preparations for Hurricane Season

Medical Preparations for Hurricane Season

Five Major Medical Considerations to Remember While Making Plans for a Hurricane

Hurricane season has arrived in Central Florida, and if you haven’t already, now is the time to prepare for severe weather.  Modern technology may give us plenty of warning before a storm, but that’s still no reason to procrastinate on your emergency plan, especially if you have medical considerations.  Hurricane preparedness is important for every household, but if you or someone in your home is living with a chronic condition, you may need to take extra steps to make sure your household is ready in the event of a disaster.

To get some extra tips and advice, we talked to Joy Jackson, MD, who is the director for the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk).  

FIRST, know where you are going to go if you have to leave your home.  This is true for everyone, but especially so for individuals with special medical needs.  The ideal plan is to have family or friends that you can stay with.  Shelters are available for those who need them, including special medical shelters.  Medical needs shelters can provide some necessary care, but it will not be the same level of care as would be provided in a hospital or nursing home, so it is recommended that shelters be utilized as a last resort.  Polk County has three special medical needs shelters, located in Lakeland, Davenport, and Bartow.

The need for medical devices, such as oxygen or nasal CPAP, should also be considered.  Special medical shelters do have generators and the ability to handle oxygen.  Bed cots are available and low to the ground, which makes them easily accessible for those in wheelchairs.  It is important to remember that they offer limited care.  They are geared towards those who are able to care for themselves for the most part.  These shelters offer food, water, electricity, and basic assistance.  Pre-registration is strongly recommended.  Visit to get more details or register.  You can also call the Polk County Emergency Management department at (863) 298-7027.

SECOND, think about your medications.  “About 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition that makes them more vulnerable, and many folks are on medication.  So not only knowing where to go, but ensuring they have an adequate supply of medication for upwards of two weeks is desirable,” Dr. Jackson cautions.

As far as storing medicine, Dr. Jackson adds, “Most tablets can be kept at room temperature quite well.”  That means you can prepare an emergency kit containing your medications without worry.  Insulin, on the other hand, does need to be kept at a cooler temperature, so it is worthwhile to invest in a small cooler specifically for that.  Insulin should not go above 85 degrees, and as any Central Florida native knows, once the A/C goes out, 85 degrees is the low end of what we can expect summer temperatures to be.  Make sure to check the expiration dates on over-the-counter medications in first aid kits to make sure they aren’t outdated as well.

Those suffering from asthma need to evaluate if they are able to control their asthma with medication or if a nebulizer, which requires electricity, is necessary.  Again, the best situation is to plan to stay with family or friends if evacuation is required, but if that isn’t possible, then special medical shelters can accommodate nebulizers.

Other conditions, such as arthritis and hypertension, that are managed solely through medication can be more easily prepared for by keeping sufficient stocks of medication on hand.  Keep two weeks’ worth of medication in an evacuation kit and rotate it out as necessary.

THIRD, consider transportation options.  “Older adults tend to tolerate the change associated with an evacuation less well,” Dr. Jackson observes.  “They may have mobility issues, or they may not tolerate the changing environment as well, so they need to have a plan in place with family regarding where they will go in an emergency.”

Polk County Transit Services provides transportation to emergency shelters.  They will keep a list of those who will need transportation to and from medical needs shelters, which is another advantage to pre-registering.

FOURTH, include caregivers in the planning process.  Many caregivers will have their own families to tend to, and may not be able to accompany their patients to shelters.  It is recommended that medical patients have someone accompany them at the shelter, so this aspect needs to be considered well in advance of an actual storm or disaster.

FINALLY, as you are preparing your emergency survival kit and evacuation plan, don’t forget about your pets.  Concern over the family pet is a major reason for people to delay or refuse to evacuate.  There are three pet-friendly shelters available in Polk County that can accommodate dogs, cats, and birds. Not every shelter is open in every storm though, so check availability before heading out.  Shelters are located in Haines City, Eagle Lake, and Lakeland.