Emergency preparedness is a big deal for me. As a 24/7 ventilator user, disasters place me at greater risk than my non-disabled counterparts. In addition to my ventilator, my children and I rely on a great deal of medical equipment, much of it powered by electricity. From feeding pumps, to power wheelchairs, to a ventilator, our lives depend on electricity. I like to say that I use a ventilator, but I am dependent — or reliant — on electricity. Preparing for electrical outages is essential for my, and my family’s safety. However, we take our preparedness to another level, and have plans for all types of disasters.
I live in Northern Colorado, in an area beset by frequent power outages. We experience severe weather in the form of windstorms, thunderstorms, hailstorms, tornadoes, and blizzards. We are also susceptible to wildfires. My area also has a great deal of oil and gas development, and a non-natural disaster from a nearby well could also affect our safety.
In the past six years, my home has experienced two major disasters — a tornado and flooding. During that same period, large wildfires have created unhealthy levels of smoke — smoke so thick that we could not see down the block. Just last month, an oil well a few miles away had a major explosion. Just last night wind knocked out the power to my town for several hours. In short — disaster could strike at any time.
We primarily plan to shelter in place whenever possible. Floods, another tornado, or a well explosion could force us to evacuate. As a result, we have plans to both shelter in place, and to evacuate.
I am a single parent, and as mentioned above, I am a ventilator user. I also use other equipment such as a power wheelchair, feeding pump, transfer device, and alternating pressure air mattress. One of my daughters also relies on a feeding pump, powered transfer device, and a power wheelchair. My other three children also have disabilities that would affect their ability to function in a disaster shelter. Two of my children rely on medical food — food not readily available in a disaster. As a result, we plan to shelter in place whenever possible.
In order to shelter in place, we have a natural gas powered generator. The generator does not power our entire house, but all the electrical circuits that power our medical equipment, plus the furnace and refrigerator. Most of our lights are powered, as are many of the outlets powering things like the television, computers and internet router. I have registered with the power company so that they know I rely on power, so whenever possible, power is restored to us, prior to other locales where there are not power dependent people.
We always ensure that we have enough medical supplies — particularly g-tube formula — to last us as at least two weeks — and in most cases a month. We maintain a supply of bottled water, as well as plenty of food that could be cooked in either a microwave, or reheated with a sterno can. We also keep a supply of sterno cans available. I garden and preserve my own food, so we always have plenty of food in the house. We maintain a supply of diapers, wet wipes, hygiene products, gloves, first aid supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, and paper plates and plastic cutlery at all times. I always have a couple gallons of bleach available, as well as heavy duty gloves to help with cleanup.
We try, as best we can within the confines of our insurance plans, to have at least a couple weeks supply of essential medications.
Some of our preparedness entails being intentional and habitual about how we live our lives. I always try to fill the van with gas as soon as it is low, rather than waiting until the next time I want to leave. (This also helps my morning routine go better). I buy dog and cat food before I am completely out. I use bottled water for the humidifier on my ventilator, so my stock of water is always in rotation. I refill prescriptions as early as insurance will allow so that we can maintain a stockpile of medications.
Last we rely on attendant care. I have a basement apartment where a back-up attendant lives. I know my neighbors so that we can get help in an emergency. All of this helps us to shelter in place.
Sheltering in place is not always possible. A tornado would knock out our natural gas supply, as well as electricity. More extensive flooding would force us to evacuate, as would a close wildfire. An oil or gas well explosion would likewise force us to evacuate. My family camps a great deal, so during summer months, our trailer remains packed with all our camping gear, which enables us to leave at a moment’s notice. In addition to camping gear, the trailer holds ventilator, feeding pump, and wheelchair chargers, along with all our disposable supplies such as diapers, wipes, feeding bags, ventilator circuits, tracheotomy supplies, g-tubes, and anything else that would not spoil in the heat in the trailer. We keep animal crates, and pet food in the trailer as well. We keep all our medications in a box so that the medications can be grabbed at a moment’s notice to leave. I always have a to-go bag of ventilator and trach supplies. We can grab cases of formula in a moment’s notice as well.
Despite the preparation, I have experienced that the best made plans are still not foolproof. When portions of our home flooded last summer, we lost all of one daughter’s stockpile of medical food. We still had 10 days of food preserved, so we had time to get her food for the month replaced thanks to the generous donations of friends and family members. Over the past six months we have been able to again create a stockpile.
While we were able to shelter in place after the flood, an electrical transformer blew after the floods, causing significant damage to our generator. We experienced one short outage, but had the outage lasted, we would have had to evacuated to a hotel. I still maintain a list of hotels in the area that have generator power, and during that outage, I was able to find a hotel room that we could have used if need be. I just plan, plan for my plans to work, and plan for those plans to not work.