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Hurricane preparedness: New recommendations after Harvey

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HOUSTON – It's that time of year where we discuss storm safety and preparing for evacuations.

This year, there are ways to improve preparations since Hurricane Harvey taught Houston some lessons about major storms and flooding. For instance, typically recommendations have been for families to take a week's worth of medication when evacuating. Now that leaders know how long flooding can last, a month's worth of prescriptions is recommended by local nurses.

A UT Health Physicians nurse, Elvia Gomez, said when a storm is in the Gulf of Mexico, that is the time to begin refilling prescriptions.

One Missouri City mom, Mary Lisa Bucci, did evacuate ahead of Harvey since she depends on dialysis (therefore electricity and medications). During Harvey, she left all the comforts of home with only two days’ worth of supplies.

“My concern was if the lights go out how will I get my treatment?” Bucci asked.

Her home did not flood, sparing her mountains of medical equipment she left behind and luckily her provider mailed the medicines she needed for the rest of the time she could not get back to Houston. 

For the Houstonians who stayed and experienced emergencies, there was a frightening sense of loneliness since even 911 call centers were sometimes inaccessible.

However, Gomez said the UT Health Physicians Nurse Triage line never went down.

English and Spanish speakers available: 713-486-utrn (8876)

Gomez said she was telling people by phone how to administer life-saving techniques to children and the elderly. She was even advising which hospitals stayed above water, sometimes encouraging people to walk through floodwaters to get there. 

Now, she said she knows the biggest mistakes people made during Harvey, and she has some recommendations on how to improve.

“Have a list of all the medications that their kids are taking or that they're taking, their doctor's phone number, what pharmacy they're going to, [the pharmacy’s] phone numbers. Carry their insurance information,” Gomez suggested. She said many people called the triage line without that information and made it more difficult to answer medical questions.

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, people arrived for shelter with medications in hand as suggested. Yet, people had been standing in water for so long, the prescriptions were wet and unusable.

Gomez now recommends you to add a waterproof box to your hurricane prep kit.

“Not only (for medications) just safeguard documents and insurance,” she recommended. “Don't get the cheap ones, you want to spend a little bit of extra money just to make sure that they're going to seal really well."

Bucci said now she will take preparations a lot more seriously, sooner in the season.

"Are we glad we left? Yes, we’re glad we left. And we think that every time a hurricane would come in, we would leave," she said.

Here is a list of recommended items for hurricane prep kits, according to the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Water - 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food - at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cellphone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Download the recommended supplies list 

Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:

  • Prescription medications
  • Nonprescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler's checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

After assembling your kit remember to maintain it so it’s ready when needed:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers
  • Replace expired items as needed
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

VIDEO: Does your energy company have a “chronic condition list?"

There are also local energy companies that have a “chronic condition list." That means people who need electricity to use medical equipment are a priority to get power turned on first. Call your energy provider to see if you are eligible for this option.

  • AEP Texas Central 877-547-5513 361-880-6027 
  • AEP Texas North 877-547-5513 361-880-6027 
  • CenterPoint Energy 713-945-6353 713-945-6357 
  • Nueces Electric 800-632-9288 361-387-4139 
  • Oncor 888-313-6862 800-666-3406 
  • Texas-New Mexico Power 800-738-5579 972-420-7628

The application is here: https://www.puc.texas.gov/industry/electric/forms/critical/ccform.pdf

According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the patient completes page 1 of the application, their doctor will need to complete the second page and submit both pages to the appropriate energy company.