Advice From Our Experts

Earthquake Preparedness for Kids with Medical Needs

We all know that we should be prepared in the event of a disaster, but are we really? Most of us in Southern California keep extra bottles of water in our homes, a collection of dusty canned food (hopefully with a manual can opener), flashlights, a radio, and a first aid kid that will hopefully get us through in case “the big one” hits. While these basic extra supplies are certainly important, what about real necessities—the life-sustaining ones? In the event of a huge earthquake, the roads may be inaccessible, and we may be without power, running water or access to any store.

I work in the Division of Urology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and take care of many children who are dependent upon catheterizations to empty their bladder. Some of these children are completely unable to urinate without the use of a catheter, and are at risk for literally “popping” their bladder, which can be life-threatening, if they don’t catheterize at regular intervals throughout the day. Failing to catheterize can also lead to a myriad of other complications such as kidney failure, infection or electrolyte imbalance. I talk to all of my families about the importance of keeping an emergency stash of extra catheters to last at least three or four days in case a big earthquake hits and business is not as usual. Mini kits with these supplies should be kept at home (at both mom and dad’s house if parents don’t live together), in the car, at school, or at another location where the child spends a significant amount of time, like grandma’s house.

While your child may not need urologic supplies, think about if he or she relies on any life-sustaining equipment or medications. Some examples are kids who need:

  • G-tube feedings to receive their nutrition
  • Oxygen or a ventilator to breath
  • Medications to keep vital body processes working like insulin, an inhaler or anti-rejection medications after a transplant

It’s important to think about the food, equipment and medications that your child needs, and ensure that you have an adequate stash in your earthquake kit. Make a list of every supply that you use throughout the course of a day, to prevent forgetting little things that are actually important. For example, a G-Tube-dependent child may require:

  • Extra syringes
  • Distilled water for flushes
  • Extra batteries for the feeding pump
  • Extra bags or connection tubing

If you aren’t quite sure what you might need, talk to your child’s doctor or nurse for advice. In some instances, the doctor may need to prescribe extra medication or supplies specifically for emergency purposes, as most supplies and medications are dispensed in exact quantities to get through the week or month. Also consider if your child’s medication must be refrigerated. Do you have ice packs to last a few days to keep this medication cool?

Even if your child doesn’t have any serious medical problems, it’s still important to think about being prepared with the basics. For instance:

  • If you have an infant at home and are not breastfeeding, do you have extra formula handy to last a few days? What about the appropriate water to mix this formula? Make sure to routinely check expiration dates on all foods and medications, as it is probable that these items will sit on the shelf for extended periods of time.
  • Do you have extra diapers to keep your child clean and dry if it isn’t possible to get to the store?
  • If your children have food allergies or are, for instance, allergic to gluten, make sure your earthquake canned goods are appropriate for them to eat. While the whole family may not rely on special foods, make sure to put away specific items needed to sustain each person in the household. For example, my nephew has a gluten allergy, so the Spaghetti-Os that I have put aside as my “earthquake food” would not work for him. Because he spends so much time at my house, I keep some extra food just for him on my shelf as well.

I hope this article gets you thinking about your own child and what they specifically need in the event of a disaster. I hope none of us ever need to use these extra supplies, but I feel better knowing that my family is prepared in the case of a disaster.

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