When natural disasters and diabetes collide

Natural disasters significantly affect the lives of millions of people worldwide each year. This year, we have seen our share of natural disasters in the US alone: hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires. Obviously, there are other tragedies that can be equally disastrous, but most often natural disasters are the types that unexpectedly take homes, loved ones, and possessions alike in a matter of seconds. Preparation is essential.

Natural disasters + diabetes
If you are one of the millions of people with diabetes, emergency preparation requires significantly more planning. Hurricane Maria landed on the shores of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 and and is expected to leave 3.4 million people without electricity for 4-6 months. Such conditions would be problematic for anyone, but what if you had diabetes and required daily insulin injections? Insulin left at room temperature lasts for approximately one month, so manufacturers recommend storing insulin in the refrigerator where it may last until the expiration date listed on the bottle. Unrefrigerated insulin should be kept as cool as possible: 56°F – 80°F. Immediately after Hurricane Maria, daily temperature highs in Puerto Rico averaged 85°F.

A recent real-life story involves Miguel Olivera, a 75-year-old Vietnam veteran, who experienced this recent plight. He and his wife live in the mountains above San Juan, Puerto Rico. Miguel feels lucky to be alive after the hurricane but knows he will need assistance soon because the insulin in his refrigerator, without electricity, will only be effective for a few weeks without temperature control.

What if you need to leave NOW?
Imagine that you are awakened at 2:00 a.m. to learn that you have only minutes to evacuate your home to escape a wildfire headed in your direction. No coffee. No shower. What do you bring? Wedding pictures, your new road bike, jewelry, toys for your kids? Everything else may be lost in the fire.

This happened to thousands living in the renowned wine country of Northern California during the early morning of October 9, 2017. Imagine being in the subpopulation that has insulin-dependent diabetes. You are fleeing for safety but will need to bring adequate supplies because you don’t know what the next few days, weeks, or even months will bring. Do you sacrifice your wedding pictures for insulin, meters, and lancets? Do you try to take everything?

Essential preparation
Many diabetes organizations, including our own Jeff Chang, recommends having an emergency kit at the ready so you have one less thing to worry about during stressful times. Common recommended items include the following:

  • Insulin and syringes
  • Medication
  • Blood glucose meter
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Items to treat hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia
  • Water and healthy, non-perishable foods
  • Copies of insurance and prescriptions
  • Emergency contact numbers for family, healthcare providers, Red Cross, etc.

Glooko strives to help people with emergencies and over these last few weeks, we’ve been worrying about not only our friends out there with diabetes but also those who have been affected by these natural disasters. We’ve heard stories of some of our users getting remote support from clinicians using the Glooko Population Tracker which gives them a view of how their patients are doing. Glooko employees have also come together to donate to numerous organizations that are helping people on-site at each of these disasters. We were pleased when we learned that Glooko would match all of the donations. Our hearts continue to go out to all of those affected.