Am I Disaster Prepared?

News of last Friday’s earthquake in Japan, of the tsunami that followed — and now of the nuclear radiation — is something that, I’m sure it’s safe to say, has affected us all in one way or another. The images, video, and stories coming out of the country are heartbreaking, and there’s little I can say.


What I can write about, however, is diabetes. So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to move to one place my mind went after seeing what was happening in Japan.

In a video out of Japan that I watched last Friday, the floodwaters from the tsunami had moved inland and engulfed most of the buildings in North Sendai. The person shooting the video was standing on higher ground and looking out toward some of the structures that still remained (many had already been torn apart by the floodwaters). As the videographer panned, the image stopped and zoomed in on one building’s roof. About a dozen people stood at the edge waiting to be rescued.

That image has haunted me for many reasons, and it became a catalyst that got me thinking about my illness during a disaster. Granted, I don’t live in an earthquake or tsunami-prone part of the world, but disasters come in many varieties and can strike unexpectedly. If I found myself in a dire situation with little warning or little time to grab diabetes necessities off the shelf (if a shelf was even available), would I be ready? Would I have the proper supplies? How long would I be able to survive — could I survive? — if I was in a situation such as these people found themselves?

There were lots of irrational thoughts going through my head over the weekend, but there were also some logical ones. “Should I maybe think just a bit more about preparing for the unexpected?” That makes sense. Insulin, for example: I often travel about town without extra insulin. Or we’ll go to my wife’s parents’ house an hour north of here, in the country, and on a day trip I rarely bring extra insulin. Of course, I wear an insulin pump, which has a reservoir with two or three days’ storage, so yeah, I’m just fine. I could probably go higher in my blood glucose and do some things to bring it back down, sans insulin (some exercise, for example), if a disaster happened and we got stuck out there.

But taken to the extreme (and it may sound far-fetched, but so does a lot of what’s happening to people in Japan): What if something happened and I became trapped somewhere during a natural (or human-manufactured) emergency and didn’t have a kit with extra carbohydrates? I spend some time in elevators. I spend time in parking garages. I’m often in larger buildings, or in my car during inclement weather… any number of places that aren’t the safety of my own home with a larder full of carbs and a fridge full of insulin.

A low blood glucose and me unable to treat it? A scary, scary thought.

So maybe I should think a bit more about the far-fetched contingencies, right?

One of the things I’m going to do over the next few weeks is put together a Diabetes Disaster Preparedness kit and think more about how, in my day-to-day wandering about in the world, I might react to all sorts and kinds of diabetes emergencies. I don’t want to succumb in a disaster any more quickly than my nondiabetes counterpart!

I’ll read some more from this aesthetically unappealing PDF, and I’ll spend some time looking through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

Not to be a Chicken Little or anything, but the news of the past week is a reminder that the unexpected does occur.

Editor’s Note: For more information about preparing for an emergency, see the article “Disaster Preparedness: It’s Never Too Early to Plan Ahead!”

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  • diane

    It always helps to be reminded every so often before a disaster occurs. I live in a hurricane prone state and would love to hear what your disaster list includes…just in case I’m forgetting anything! Thanks.

  • Roger

    I agree the recent events in Japan have alerted me that disasters can happen in modern countries also. I look forward to your future blogs on a Disaster Kit.

  • Chris

    I’ve been worried about diabetics in Japan who had no chance to grab their medicine while fleeing the tsunami.

    In most disasers, a person will have a chance to grab an emergency bag that’s kept by the door, even if they have to evacuate quickly. Extra medicines can be kept on hand in the bag, but insulin users will need to get their insulin from the fridge.

    An insulated bag can be kept in the backpack and some type of cold pack can be taken from the freezer or whatever is appropriate to keep it at the right temperature, while the diabeties medicine is taken from the fridge. Those who use insulin can check with their doctor or pharmacist about the best way store and keep insulin in an emergency. It wouldn’t be a problem to keep a small meter and some test strips in the emergency kit, just make sure to keep the batteries charged.

    If medicines have to be taken from the fridge, it would be a good idea to put on big sign on the emergency backpack that reads, “Grab insulin.”

    It’s important to check dates on the backback’s contents, so medicines, test strips, food and water, so they can be cycled out of the kit,used before they expire, and replaced with new items.

    The kit should include basic first aid supplies. It’s especially important that diabetics properly clean and dress a wound. A small unbreakable mirror in the kit can help in checking for foot injuries, even if it’s not as convenient as a mirror with a handle especially designed for this.

    Disasters create many opportunies to get wounded, so be prepared.

    A second larger emergency kit can be stashed in a large plastic bin with a lid. This could contain more food, water and supplies. Be creative about where to store it. The bin can go under a kitchen or dining room table, in the bottom of a closet, or in sealed underbed storage.

    A good size emergency kit can be kept in the car, including drinking water. If the weight means lower gas mileage, it’s worth it. There should also be a backpack in the trunk. The most vital items can be put in the backpack.

    Don’t forget to have at least 3 to 5 days worth of food. Since proper nutrition is so important for diabetics, it’s better to err on the side of having more food on hand. It doesn’t have to be expensive, lower cost foods like peanut butter and canned tuna can be part of the plan.

    Please check reputable sources like the Red Cross or Homeland Security for information to include in your disaster kit.

    If you have to opportunity to take Citizens Emergency Response Training, “CERT”, the program receives Federal funding and helps regular people learn what to do in the event of a major disaster or other mass casualty. Here in the link to information by state: