How to Prepare for an Emergency When You Have Diabetes
Between a global pandemic and numerous natural disasters, emergency preparedness has taken on a new significance for many. While emergency situations can be difficult for anyone, they are often especially challenging for those who have a chronic illness like diabetes. Every household should have a basic first-aid kit on hand. But when you have diabetes, the supplies you need go beyond Band-Aids and aspirin. Use this checklist to expand your home's first-aid kit so you are prepared for any situation.
Learn More: Best Foods to Eat for Diabetes
Place these items in a lightweight, waterproof storage bin with a snap-on lid, and keep the bin next to your basic first-aid kit in a dry, easy-to-access spot. Traveling? Bring your bin in the car or pack the supplies in a small pouch in your suitcase. In addition to an easily accessible emergency kit, we spoke with experts to compile their best tips to keep you safe, healthy and ready for anything.
Your Diabetes Emergency Kit Checklist
- Extra test strips and lancets
- Spare batteries for your meter + CGM
- Sharps container (in a pinch, use an empty water bottle)
- Hand sanitizer
- Wet wipes
- Pencil & paper to record blood sugar results
If you're taking insulin or hypoglycemic medication
- Glucagon kit
- Extra insulin syringes
- Small Styrofoam cooler for insulin (store freezer packs in freezer)
- Foil-wrapped ketone test strips
- Backup supplies for insulin pump (batteries, infusion sets)
Food + Water
- 3 liters of water per person (a two-day supply)
- Nonperishable snacks to treat and prevent lows (a two-day supply)
- Crackers & peanut butter packs
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Quick-grab carbs (each of these is 15g carb):
- One 6-oz. juice pack
- 6 hard candies like Life Savers
- 2 packs of Smarties candy
- 2 Tbsp. raisins or other dried fruit
- 1 Tbsp. sugar or honey (the amount in 3 sugar packets)
- Glucose tablets
- Diabetes identification card or wearable ID
- List of current prescriptions and dose schedule
- Copy of insurance cards
- List of emergency phone numbers (include family members, neighbors, co-workers, health care providers, pharmacies, and your insurance plan)
- A medical history summary that lists your diabetes type, allergies, and other health conditions
Outside the Box
Consider supplies that you use daily or that require refrigeration as part of your kit, but store them elsewhere:
- Your everyday diabetes kit
- Current medicines & insulin
- Freezer packs (if you take insulin or refrigerated medicines, for a cooler)
Expert Tips to Help You Prepare
So now that you are well stocked, what should your emergency plan include to help you be ready for anything? We spoke with experts like nurse and certified diabetes education specialist at Emory Healthcare, Joe Trotter, and spokesperson for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Karl Nadolsky, D.O., to learn their best tips for staying safe in times of uncertainty.
Take Care of Your Health Now
Before you look to the future, Nadolsky recommends, start by taking stock of what you’re currently doing well. Are you finding time for regular exercise? Are you getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet? If you’re leading a relatively healthy lifestyle today, you’ll be in a better position to manage your diabetes in the event of an emergency, he explains. “Your goal should be to optimize the condition, because that can help prevent complications.”
If you’re among those who could use a boost in this regard, work with your physician and diabetes care team to identify your personal risks and the actions you can take to mitigate them. That might mean making changes to what you eat or asking a friend or family member to join you on daily walks around the neighborhood. (If outdoor exercise is inconvenient or impossible, consider trying a fitness app or video and doing your workouts from home.) For some people, a self-care upgrade might include activities for reducing or managing stress, like art, yoga, or meditation, while for others it might involve trying new social pursuits to create a sense of community and build new relationships. Follow your interests, experts recommend, and be open to developing new ones that promise to improve your health.
Last, Nadolsky says, stay on top of your regular doctors’ appointments to ensure your medications are what they should be. Should an emergency arise, he notes, you don’t want to find—when it’s too late—that the regimen you’re on is no longer adequate, or that the prescription you have is outdated. “Take care of the details while you can now, and you’ll set yourself up for success later,” he says.
Stock Up on Other Supplies
One only has to remember the “panic buying” at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (toilet paper, anyone?) to understand the importance of stocking up prior to any emergency. Hoarding supplies is not recommended, nor is it feasible if you have limited space. But you can make sure you have extras of a few key staples— especially those you depend on to manage your diabetes. And by planning ahead, you can stock up gradually so you won’t have to spend a lot of money all at once.
Focus on what you’d need if you were confined to your home for several weeks (include items for entertainment), but also on what you’d take with you in an evacuation. For your emergency kit, the AACE recommends packing a two-day supply of nonperishable foods, and at least a three-day supply of bottled water. First-aid supplies, extra clothing, and extra batteries and chargers also make their list, as do a few less-obvious items, like a pen and notepad for recording blood sugar levels and tracking your general state of health.
At home, replenish any over-the-counter medications that are in low supply, and ensure you have what you need for personal hygiene. And aim to stock your pantry with shelf-stable and nutritious foods so you can continue preparing healthy meals for as long as you’re prevented from getting to the store. Among the items recommended by registered dietitians: canned beans, vegetables, and fruits (in their own juice); brown rice and whole-grain pasta; canned tuna or chicken; and bags of nuts and seeds you can add to meals or eat on their own when you need an energy boost.
Shore Up Your Social Support
Joe Trotter, for his part, made it through the hardest weeks of COVID-19 without tapping any of the emergency supplies he assembled at the start of the pandemic. Like a lot of people, however, he leaned on family and friends, and that’s a strategy he’d recommend to anyone with diabetes. “Having social support is always important for any chronic condition, just so you don’t feel alone,” he says. As you work on your emergency plan, he suggests, make a list of the people you know you can turn to and talk to when the going gets rough— or whenever you crave a little human contact. Also be sure to write down their numbers (in case your phone dies), and tell them that they’re in your plans so they know that you feel your relationship is valuable.
At Emory Healthcare, Trotter notes, he talks about the need for social support with many of the people he sees. And in the months since the coronavirus first came on the scene? He and his colleagues are still conveying the importance of emergency preparedness, he says, “But now we’re definitely giving it a little more weight because I think we’ve all seen how important it really is.”
Emergency Preparedness Resources
Looking for more information? The following organizations provide resources and guidance that can help you put together a custom diabetes emergency preparedness plan. You can find videos, checklists, and downloads at these websites.
Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists
American Diabetes Association
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
Diabetes Disaster Response Coalition