Each year, the hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. Hurricanes can result in storm surge, heavy rainfall, flooding, high winds, and tornadoes. Citizens in hurricane impact zones should take steps to prepare in advance. For information on impending hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms, see the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Also see the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Hurricane Response and Recovery Web page.
Storms affect people in all geographical areas. When a hurricane approaches, there may be a need to evacuate the area. Some situations allow for a day or 2 of preparations, while others might require immediate evacuation. Pediatricians should advise families to follow evacuation orders from officials. Planning is vital to ensure that everyone can evacuate quickly and safely. Clinicians can work with families to ensure they have a plan for evacuation that includes information on how they will leave and where they will go. Encourage each family to prepare a Disaster Supply Kit and portable emergency kit for the car. The most immediate needs could be for gasoline and water. When there is advance notice of a pending storm, adults should fill up their cars with gasoline and pick-up enough water for several days, or longer.
Clinicians can take steps now to prepare themselves and the families they serve:
Educate yourself in advance of a hurricane or storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers information on how to prepare for a hurricane and the US Food and Drug Administration provides information on health and safety during hurricanes.
Create or update a written preparedness plan. Review the AAP Preparedness Checklist for Pediatric Practices or the Guidelines for Care of Children in the Emergency Department checklist for ideas on plan development in various practice settings.
Review your insurance coverage. Locate and review your office insurance policies, paying particular attention to exclusions, limits, and deductibles. Check if you have coverage for vaccines and spoilage, business interruption/income replacement, and unique hazards like flooding. The AAP summarized the policies and processes of vaccine manufacturers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine for Children Program related to vaccine loss due to a natural disaster in the US and Puerto Rico.
Work with child care programs and schools to improve disaster planning. These locations are required to develop preparedness plans to keep students safe in a disaster. This includes having plans to notify parents if sheltering in place or emergency evacuation is required during school hours as well as planning for the reunification of children with families.
Help all families, especially those with children and youth with special needs, to prepare for disasters. The AAP recommends that families develop a written disaster plan and that parents discuss these plans with their children. Pediatricians can start the conversation with families and advise them on which activities are of highest priority. See the AAP Family Readiness Kit or the Hurricane Preparedness: Tips for Families Web page.
Talking to children before a disaster helps families to prepare for emergencies and everyday life. When children are exposed to situations that are traumatic, they may have difficulty understanding or they may develop a range of stress-related symptoms. Pediatricians can speak with parents about strategies for coping and adjustment.
Pediatricians can support children in a hurricane by advocating for children's needs, joining disaster-related coalitions, and by participating in state-level hurricane preparedness exercises (and ensuring that children are considered in each drill/exercise). In advance of the next hurricane, clinicians can locate and begin partnering with state and local entities to ensure connections are made.
In a disaster, children receive more appropriate and more effective care when they are accompanied by their parent or caregiver. If separation is unavoidable, children should be reunited with their families/caregivers as soon as possible. Clinicians should coordinate with hospitals to encourage reunification planning for situations where children may be separated from their families or caregivers. Reviewing the FEMA document, Post Disaster Reunification of Children – A Nationwide Approach, or the AAP webinar.
Leverage Chapter Contacts for Disaster Preparedness
The AAP has "pediatric champions" or Chapter Contacts for Disaster Preparedness who work to initiate and mobilize disaster preparedness and response efforts in every state. The responsibilities and initiatives or each contact vary based on the needs within the state or region and can represent the interests or expertise of those leading these efforts. Connect with your state chapter contact to see how you can work together to prepare for hurricanes.