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Life with Diabetes: Emergency Preparedness

June 9, 2011

Due to recent inclement weather we have experienced in our area and across the country, we wanted to share some great resources with our JDRF friends and family so you can be prepared for any emergencies. Some situations may require you to leave your home unexpectedly or may limit your access to needed diabetes supplies.

To help support families during these emergencies such as inclement weather, troubled times or any event involving emergency conditions, this special issue of Life with Diabetes from 2005 and the emergency checklist provides critical information on such topics as for caring for your child with diabetes in times of crisis, an emergency “survival guide,” and tips for dealing with new schools.

Caring for Children in Troubled Times

The hidden toll of disasters may lie in the minds and hearts of children. When a disaster strikes, children typically exhibit loss of trust and fear that what happened once may happen again. Even secondhand exposure to disaster on TV can be traumatic for them. And if trauma is left untreated, it could lead to serious behavioral problems in the future.

We can help our children cope by reassuring them that they are safe. We can also encourage them to express their feelings and assure them that it is normal to feel upset. We must listen to them and watch for signs of distress in order to respond effectively.

In the case of a child with diabetes, the situation is aggravated, because besides emotional stress, there is an accompanying physical reaction to stress—swings in blood sugar levels.

Read the full article on the first page of the Life with Diabetes Newsletter

Ask a Medical Professional: Preparing for an Emergency 

No one with diabetes ever expects to be in a situation where they are unable to get to their supplies, but Hurricane Katrina dramatically illustrated that we must always be prepared in case of an emergency. To ensure you’re never caught without insulin diabetes-care supplies:

  • Keep (and always have with you when you leave home) a small backpack filled with snacks, insulin, insulin administration devices, a waterless hand sanitizer, and blood glucose testing supplies. Include plenty of testing strips and supplies for the treatment of hypoglycemia: glucotabs, juice boxes, glucagon, phenergan suppositories (in case of vomiting), and medical identification. 
  • Place medical products in plastic containers to keep them dry (e.g., wound care supplies). 
  • Heat and humidity can alter the function of your blood glucose test kit and your glucose meter. Keep a copy of the relevant portions of your owner’s manuals in your backpack to help ensure the devices continue working properly.    
  • Always have extra insulin available in your refrigerator that you can grab in an emergency.
  • If you or your child wears an insulin pump, include these items in your backpack: pump supplies, such as batteries, insertion sets, tape, and cartridges; written guidelines regarding switching back to shots; bottled water to clean insertion sites.

Guidelines for Carrying Insulin

Insulin may be left un-refrigerated (between 59-86 degrees F) for up to 28 days and still maintain potency. As a general rule, insulin loses its potency according to the temperature it is exposed to and the length of the exposure. Under emergency conditions, when the storage temperature exceeds 86 F, insulin may still need to be used, but it may have lost some of its potency, which over time could result in less effective blood glucose control.

Patients should try to keep their insulin as cool as possible, avoiding direct heat and sunlight. Do not allow insulin to freeze if it is placed on ice.

Evacuation Dos and Dont’s

  • Keep your devices out of direct sunlight
  • Use a dry cloth to regularly wipe off devices
  • Do not use disposable devices that are wet (e.g., wound dressings, disposable thermometers, tubing)
  • Do not use ice if there is danger of water contamination; use dry ice or instant cold packs instead.
  • Wear medical ID bracelets or necklaces at all times
  • Do not use contaminated water to wash hands. Use a waterless hand sanitizer or bottled water.

Emergency Checklist

Having an emergency checklist completed and easily accessible by you and those who care for your child living with diabetes could save a life.  This checklist includes a page for emergency numbers, signs for lows and highs and tips for preparing and using a glucagon emergency kit. View the checklist

This issue of Life with Diabetes also includes tips for parents enrolling their child in a different school after an emergency. Read the issue.  

Please remember that JDRF is here to help. For more resources, visit our JDRF Dallas Resource Page.


To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Don M permalink
    June 9, 2011 9:24 pm

    Most of these comments are sane, but the one about jamming god knows that into a big bag is not practical and it is overkill. If you had three minutes to get out of the house, what would you take and where would you find it? That’s my rule.

    Good article though.

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