How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster When You Have a Chronic Illness

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Modern society is rife with individuals who suffer from chronic, debilitating illnesses. From diabetes and heart disease to autoimmune conditions, cancer, and mental health issues, chronic conditions are almost the norm rather than the exception. The National Health Council reports that approximately 157 million Americans will be living with a chronic illness in 2020, which is roughly 40% of the total population.

The unpleasant reality is that this segment of the population is extremely vulnerable in the event of a long-term grid-down scenario, large-scale weather event, or economic crash. Being unprepared for sudden power loss or a similar eventuality can even be fatal. For example, in October 2019, a 67-year-old California man died following a power outage that cut off his oxygen supply. According to Fox News, the man was unable to reach his battery-powered tank in time and succumbed to severe coronary artery atherosclerosis.

While this was an isolated incident, it’s a fitting example of what’s at stake for the millions who rely on devices and prescription medicine to live comfortable lives. Thus, anyone with a chronic illness should make sure to have a plan in place for navigating disaster scenarios. Here’s what you and your family members need to know.

Essential Prepper Considerations for the Ill and Infirm

As we prepare for a natural disaster or similar emergency, stocking up on non-perishable food and water is typically the primary consideration. Yet we shouldn’t overlook individual needs, especially for loved ones who are living with a chronic illness. Depending on the nature of one’s chronic disease or health condition, you may need to obtain a backup supply of medication or a generator to power devices such as defibrillators. 

Rationing prescription drugs can have severe repercussions and may even be fatal. In the event of a looming natural disaster, you should have a minimum 10-day supply of medications on hand in order to manage your chronic illness safely. What’s more, those who use an injectable drug, such as Bydureon for type 2 diabetes, should also ensure that they have clean and sterile syringes on hand to reduce the risk of infection. 

Having at least a basic background in CPR or EMT training is also beneficial in the event of a disaster and can mean the difference between life and death. No matter the extent of your medical knowledge, however, never underestimate the devastating effects of natural disasters. For example, earthquakes alone caused about 780,000 global deaths over the last decade, and those with chronic conditions are subject to a higher death risk in the event of a quake.

Disaster Planning for Chronic Conditions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several guidelines in place for disaster planning. Among its recommendations for those living with a chronic illness are:

  • Create an emergency kit that includes food, water, and medications
  • Have a plan in place of where to go and how you’ll get there
  • Stock up on hand sanitizer and similar supplies to reduce your risk of infection


Along with your prescriptions and sanitation supplies, your disaster kit should also include dust or respirator masks. These supplies are especially critical in the event of a power outage, when indoor air quality may be compromised. Many products that are designed to keep indoor air fresh and reduce harmful allergens, such as ventilation systems and UV lights, will be rendered inoperable when the power goes out. And that can be detrimental to your overall health, especially if you rely on air quality products to manage the symptoms of asthma, seasonal allergies, or similar respiratory conditions. 

Following a natural disaster, air quality may diminish both indoors and outside, resulting in a variety of health problems that range from a runny nose to dangerous lung diseases. What’s more, those with existing health conditions may be more at risk from the effects of airborne particles than others. 

Disasters and Mental Health

But it’s not only those with physical maladies who are at high risk in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Data collected by researchers at Bradley University indicates that just over 18% of the population has some mental illness. Among the most common mental health conditions are anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. No matter the specific condition, mental health treatment typically involves a combination of therapy and prescription drugs, both of which may be difficult to procure in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Further compounding the problem is the fact that catastrophic events themselves can be detrimental to a survivor’s overall mental health. Pre-existing conditions may exacerbate the negative symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is an unfortunately common disorder among those who have survived natural disasters. While upwards of 19% of the general population have some form of PTSD, the rate among disaster victims is much higher — between 30 and 40%, according to researchers. 

It may seem more challenging to prepare for a natural disaster when you or a loved one has a mental health disorder, but it’s far from impossible. As with physical health conditions, make sure to have at least a 10-day supply of medication on hand. It would help if you also had a tangible outlet for your symptoms, whether it’s anxiety, depression, or something else. Maybe put a few puzzles in your survival kit to occupy your mind, or consider how daily exercise may benefit your mental health following a natural disaster.

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