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Hurricane threat’s a reminder to be prepared for health care needs

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- With the East Coast preparing for a potential hit by Hurricane Florence, now’s the time for individuals to prepare for their health care needs during severe weather.

TRICARE experts recommend making a list that includes your physician’s name and contact information, medications with dosage and frequency, and type and model number of medical devices. Those with chronic health conditions or issues with vision, hearing, or mobility should get medical alert tags or bracelets, and identify how to get to safety.

Gather immunization records, insurance paperwork, and medical documents in a waterproof container that’s easy to carry, health care recommend. Put together a basic first-aid kit with enough medication to ride out a storm. TRICARE authorizes early prescription refills when emergency procedures are in place, as they currently are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. because of Hurricane Florence.

The Military Health System also prepares for natural disasters. Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. James “Jay” Burks is among those who understand that firsthand. In August 2011, Burks was a colonel commanding the 87th Medical Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, when Hurricane Irene hit. In October 2012 - only 14 months later -, Hurricane Sandy struck.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, Burks’ team systematically canceled patient appointments, prepared for a surge of prescription refills, and worked with public affairs to advertise the timeline for when services would be shut down.

“My primary concern was the safety and well-being of our staff and our patients as we followed the installation commander’s guidance to prepare,” Burks said.

Additionally, cots and provisions were brought in to the medical facility so two ambulance crews could work in shifts around the clock. Computer systems were taken offline, and big-ticket equipment such as radiology machines were covered to protect them from possible water damage. Burks also contacted civilian hospitals in the area to check on their capacity, in case it was needed.

Fortunately, the installation was largely spared from Sandy’s wrath. But many communities in the multistate region were devastated, Burks said. The joint base community of about 44,000 airmen, sailors, soldiers, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and family members grew by about 5,400 when responders with the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived when the installation became a staging area for recovery efforts.

The MHS is the DoD component of the National Disaster Medical System, which also includes the Departments of Health and Human ServicesHomeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. The system provides health and medical support when requested by civilian authorities when disasters and other emergencies happen.

“We’re involved in the full spectrum of medical support, from national to state and local levels,” said Dr. Mark Gentilman, director of medical preparedness policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Health Readiness Policy and Oversight.

That support may include moving civilian hospital patients out of harm’s way, Gentilman said, and performing food safety operations and inspections through the Veterinary Service.

For more information on preparing for hurricanes and disasters, go to www.ready.gov/hurricanes or www.TRICARE.mil/disaster. If you are impacted by a disaster, find recovery resources at FEMA’s Disaster Assistance website. 

Air Force Medicine