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Disaster Planning Guide for
People with Breathing Problems

The American Lung Association of Southeast Florida urges everyone with a breathing problem to develop a personal disaster plan BEFORE it happens.

This webpage is designed to provide general information to help individuals with breathing problems in their planning process. Take this information to your physician before finalizing your personal plan and always be guided by his or her advice. This information is geared to Hurricane planning, but is suitable for other disasters as well.

Red Cross shelters are constructed to comply with similar wind resistant building codes as all residential structures built within the past 40 years. Only mobile homes and areas subject to a hurricane tidal surge require evacuation prior to a hurricane. Call Emergency Management at 461-5201 NOW to determine if you live in an area that must be evacuated when we are threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane.

In most cases, unless you live in a hurricane evacuation area, it is best for you to have your home protected and remain in your own home with a friend or family member. If you cannot stay in your own home, stay with family or friends in a protected home. Shelters are crowded and uncomfortable and will not have air conditioning if electrical power is interrupted. Go to a shelter ONLY as a last resort. Hospitals are reserved as the place to treat injuries and life threatening situations.

Before Hurricane Season

  1. At your next physician appointment, discuss hurricane preparedness and ask for specific recommendations for you. Ask the following questions:
    • How often can I take a breathing treatment if I get short of breath?
    • Should I keep a two-week supply of all medications on hand?
    • If my condition changes, when should I go to a hospital? What procedure should I follow and what hospital should I go to? How should I get there?
    • What about taking breathing treatments if the electricity fails? Possible options include:
      1. Substituting a metered-dose inhaler for treatment.
      2. Purchasing a portable battery operated nebulizer.
      3. Buying a DC invertor, which would permit you to operate a nebulizer from a car cigarette lighter. Note: These invertors may be ordered from electronics stores. Before purchasing an invertor, check with your medical equipment vendor to assure compatibility of the invertor with your specific nebulizer and ask about the safety precautions to follow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  2. If you use oxygen, call your medical supply vendor now and ask for information on services they will provide in the event of a hurricane and/or power failure. Remember that oxygen should always be kept at least 10 feet from any open flame. Some questions to ask the medical supply vendor include:
    • Will my full oxygen backup last at least 48 hours? If you do not have a backup cylinder, ask for one.
    • Will you deliver additional oxygen cylinders in threatening weather?
    • How should I store oxygen cylinders?
    • Which supplies will I need for cleaning respiratory equipment? Request a written procedure for cleaning equipment.
    • What is your plan to replenish my oxygen supply after the storm?
  3. Patients using a ventilator should speak with their physician and medical supply vendor about obtaining a backup battery in case of a power failure during or following the storm.
  4. When developing your personal hurricane plan, ask the following questions to determine where you will stay:
    • Should I stay home or go somewhere else? Who will check on me periodically? DO NOT stay alone if you are on oxygen therapy. Note: If you require continuous oxygen therapy, you must be preregistered for a special needs shelter. You will not be accepted at community Red Cross Shelters.
    • Who will stay with me? Should I arrange for someone to stay with me or should I stay with a friend or relative? If I stay with someone, how will I get my oxygen transported?
    • At what point should I leave the area? Where and how will I get there?Note: If you leave your home, notify your medical supply vendor where you are going. Your medical supply vendor must know where to find you in order to replenish your oxygen supply after a storm since telephone lines my be out-of-service.
    • Should I go to a shelter? How will I get tot he shelter? Who should I inform that I am going to a shelter? Remember: Go to a shelter only as a last resort.
    • Do you need transportation assistance to get to the shelter? Note: If you have no other means of transportation to a Red Cross shelter, register NOW with Emergency Management. Do not wait until a hurricane threatens.
    • Assemble and check your survival kit, which should include:
      • A 14-day supply of medications
      • A small cooler with frozen gel packs
      • Supplies for cleaning respiratory equipment including vinegar, water, liquid detergent, a dish pan and paper towels
      • Water and non perishable foods that need little or no cooking for two to three days
      • Flashlight, radio, extra batteries
      • Backup oxygen cylinder
      • Blankets and pillows.

Practical Points

  1. Always have your action plan and survival kit on hand during hurricane season.
  2. Keep important papers such as your medical identification cards, physician's name and phone number and other vital information in a handy place. Put important papers in waterproof containers.
  3. Practice pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and conditioning exercises to help you breather easier.
  4. Do not wait until the last minute to shop because supplies may not be available and stores will be crowded.
  5. If you need to leave your home and are unable to stay with friends or family members, then you can consider going to a shelter. When you leave for any location, including a Red Cross shelter or a special needs shelter, take supplies to last as least three days, including food, water, medicine, nebulizer and oxygen equipment. Remember to take your bedding with you.

During the Hurricane

  1. Stay Calm. Emotional stress increases your heart rate, quickens breathing, makes breathing more difficult and demands more oxygen from the body.
  2. Use only battery powered lights.  Do not use candles or open flames for any reason. If a fire occurs, the fire department cannot respond. Keep a fire extinguisher in your home.
  3. Listen only to local radio and television for hurricane advisories and for emergency public information from Emergency Management.

After the Hurricane

  1. Stay indoors until the officials declare it safe to go outside.
  2. Be aware that after the storm passes there may be hazards, i.e., downed electrical wires, debris, snakes, etc. Washouts may weaken roads. Bridges could collapse under heavy weight.
  3. Restock your survival kit and wait for your medical supply vendor to replenish your oxygen and other medical supplies. Following a hurricane, Emergency Management will assist your oxygen provider to gain access to the area of your home for delivery of oxygen refills.

For further information on general hurricane preparedness or to preregister for a special needs shelter call:

St. Lucie County Division of Emergency Management
15305 Midway Road
Fort Pierce, FL 34945
(772) 462-8100
(800) 955-8770 TDD for hearing impaired

For additional information about lung disease and breathing techniques call:

American Lung Association of Southeast Florida
2701 N. Australian Avenue
West Palm Beach, FL 33407
(561) 659-7644 or (800)-330-5864