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Safety and Wellness

Preparedness Key to Helping Loved Ones Who Have Disabilities Weather Storms Safely

Safety tips for kids with complex needs

By Madeleine Gagnon, MD

Recent natural disasters in the southern U.S. in the form of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have sparked heightened awareness of why it’s important to have a plan when natural disasters strike your area.

Here in Minnesota we’re less concerned about hurricanes and more worried about things like tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, extreme cold and blizzards. During events like these, individuals who have disabilities may face challenges to receiving needed services and medications. For this reason it’s especially important for families to make an emergency plan—and take steps in advance to ensure you can withstand the weather event safely.

1) Secure back-up power.

For children and adults who have medical fragility, especially technology dependence, it’s important to think about back-up power options. I encourage all people who are on home ventilators, BiPAP, CPAP or chronic home oxygen to be on the local energy companies’ back-up list so that power is reinstated for those houses first.

2) Consider a generator.

I advise families who are power dependent to buy a home generator. In some cases, Medicaid (Medical Assistance in Minnesota) can assist with the purchase.

3) Invest in batteries.

Having back up batteries to operate specialty equipment items is also critical. For example, all ventilators have a plug-in plus a battery for portable use. It’s important to have a second back-up battery to things like ventilators, BiPAP, CPAP and feeding pumps. It’s also important to have oxygen tanks  that aren’t electricity dependent readily available, in the event a home’s electric oxygen concentrator experiences failure.

4) Have medications readily available.

Be prepared, as much as possible, with a stock of home medications and home enteral feeds so that a back-up supply is readily accessible.

5) Seek shelter early.

Evacuating or seeking shelter early, if the natural disaster necessitates this, is especially crucial for families of people who have complex conditions. Emergency evacuation (rescue) brings additional challenges, for example, for someone who uses a home ventilator  is challenging ( example: being rescued from home in a canoe if you are on home ventilator in the setting of flooding)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness website includes useful information on emergency readiness for people who have disabilities—including a webpage devoted to keeping children safe during an emergency. A little preparation can go a long way in providing safety and peace-of-mind during weather events, no matter where in the U.S. you call home.


Madeleine Gagnon, MD, is a complex care pediatrics physician at Gillette Children’s. Read more about Dr. Gagnon, why she's here and and her connection to Gillette. 

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