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Disaster and Emergency Preparation for Families with Food Allergies
by Kathryn Hankins
Disaster Preparation for Families with Food Allergies
You've gotten the daily business of food allergy management down pat. Injectable epinephrine goes everywhere, you know the best local places to get safe foods and you probably have the allergist on speed-dial. You're ready for anything, right?
Not necessarily. Many families are masters at managing daily life with food allergies, but few are prepared for emergencies such as major weather events or power outages. Some disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, occur with little to no warning. There is only time to get your family to safety. Hurricanes and flooding may force you out of your home and into a shelter. Snow and ice can cause long power outages. Houses and businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, can be destroyed or without power. Roads can get washed out, covered by debris or coated in ice. Any of these events could leave you without critical items for your food allergic child, such as medicines and safe food.
Restricted diets require extra planning for emergency preparedness.
Preparing for disasters ahead of time, however, can help to ensure that your food-allergic child's needs will be met during and after the emergency situation. Building a disaster kit that's always ready to grab and go is an easy way to prepare for emergencies. Keep it in a safe place where adults can get to it quickly.
What should you put in a disaster kit? That depends on your child's medical and food allergy needs as well as the types of emergencies that are most likely to occur in your area. Following are some suggestions for things to consider stocking in your disaster kit. This list may not include everything you need for your specific situation, but it can help get you started.
Medicines and Medical Supplies
Make sure that you have a sufficient supply of your child's medicines on hand at all times. This includes daily medicines, such as antihistamines, and emergency medicines, such as injectable epinephrine, inhalers and any others prescribed by your child's health care provider. If your child's allergies require compounded medicines, even for acetaminophen or ibuprofen, include some of those in the disaster kit as well. Remember to include eczema creams and other medications, too, if needed for your child.
The American Red Cross recommends including a 7-day supply of medications in your disaster kit1. Label the kit with the date of the first medication to expire and check the kit frequently. Your pharmacist may be able to supply you with auxiliary labels and vials so that all medications are properly labeled. It's also a good idea to include basic first aid supplies in this kit with bandages, gloves and whatever else your family may need. If you manage a latex allergy, this can help ensure that safe supplies are available.
For children with feeding tubes, be sure to include formula or special medical foods, extra tube supplies and formula bags in the disaster kit. Make note of the expiration dates and check those frequently as well. Parents of children with feeding tubes recommend having a spare pump that is fully charged, a power supply that can be plugged into your car to charge your pump or a small generator for the house.
Disasters can create many scenarios that could make it difficult to feed your food-allergic child (e.g., power outages, impassable roads or a need for evacuation). Food provided by shelters, the American Red Cross, churches and others during an emergency may not be safe for your child. Even if the ingredients are safe, there is a potential for cross-contamination. Therefore, it is important to have a stock of safe food sufficient to last until the situation improves.
FEMA recommends a minimum of three days' worth of non-perishable food, but you may need more for the sorts of disasters that occur in your area2. If the emergencies that are likely to occur where you live involve evacuation, pack the safe food in something that is easy to grab and go, like a plastic box with handles. Some events give little to no warning, leaving no time to go digging through the pantry. Pack up a box of safe food ahead of time so it's ready when you need it.
Depending on the type of emergency, you may not have access to a stove, oven or microwave, so it's best to stock up on safe foods that do not require cooking. Include a few treats or fun foods as well, to help ease stressful situations for your child. Having safe food that fills hungry tummies is more important than serving balanced meals during an emergency. Here are some foods that might work in a disaster kit:
Water sources can be compromised during disasters. Flooding can contaminate the water, power outages can impact water treatment plants or well pumps, and earthquakes can damage underground pipes. This not only affects water for drinking, but also for washing hands, flushing toilets, brushing teeth, and doing dishes. The American Red Cross recommends storing “one gallon of water per person per day”, with a 3-day supply for evacuations and a 2-week supply for shelter-in-place situations (i.e., at home) 1.
In addition to medicines, food and water, there are other supplies you can add to your kit that may be helpful.
1. The American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved 10 06, 2011, from http://www.redcross.org
2. FEMA. (n.d.). Retrieved 10 06, 2011, from http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/assemble_disaster_supplies_kit.shtm
Approved by KFA's Medical Advisory Team April 2012.
Kathryn Hankins is a business analyst in the healthcare IT industry. She joined KFA in 2010 after her youngest son reacted to cashews and now enjoys volunteering in KFA's Community and with KFA's Publications Team.