Each year, the hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The information below outlines information on hurricane preparedness, response and recovery efforts.
With a recognized increase in the number and severity of natural and other types of disasters, pediatric health care providers can be a critical partner in coordinated response and recovery efforts.
Hurricanes can result in storm surge, heavy rainfall, flooding, high winds and tornadoes. During each hurricane season, the AAP works with AAP chapters, federal disaster response and recovery agencies, and non-governmental organizations to ensure that children's needs are addressed in a strategic manner during the response and recovery periods. Clinicians can play a critical role in assisting children and their families to prepare for, respond to, and recover from hurricanes.
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 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 Vaccines 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.
Response activities take place during the hurricane and include actions to save lives and prevent future damage in an emergency situation. These activities could include:
- Evacuation – When a hurricane is pending, there may be a need to evacuate your home, hospital or office. Pediatricians should follow evacuation orders from officials and encourage families to do the same. If evacuation is required:
- Sheltering – Taking appropriate shelter is critical in times of disaster. Sheltering is appropriate when conditions require that you seek protection in your home, place of employment, or other location. Children require a safe, secure environment during and after a disaster.
- Locate American Red Cross shelters.
- Review Standards and Indicators for Disaster Shelter Care for Children.
- Offer to conduct child health assessments or assist in acquiring supplies for children in shelters.
- Vaccine Storage – If there is a loss of power, do not open freezers or refrigerators containing vaccines, except to transport vaccine to an alternative storage location. Continue to monitor the temperatures of your vaccines. After the event, do not discard vaccines. If vaccines were lost or damaged:
- Contact the manufacturers for their replacement/refund policies.
- 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.
- See the CDC Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit and the CDC tip sheet on packing vaccines for transport during emergencies.
Key Hurricane Response Messages:
- Follow the direction of local officials. Dangerous flooding continues; do not return home until local authorities say it is safe.
- Avoid affected areas. Stay off the roads so that first responders/service crews can get to those who most need help.
- Keep out of the water. Flood water can contain dangerous debris, downed power lines or hazardous materials. Do not walk, swim, wade or drive through flood waters.
- Power, water and communication outages may be extensive. Services in affected areas may take time to fully restore.
- Cash is best. A financial contribution to a recognized disaster relief organization is the most effective donation to make.
- Be vigilant in looking for certain infectious diseases. Clinicians assessing patients affected by hurricanes should be watching for certain infectious diseases, including leptospirosis, hepatitis A, vibriosis and influenza.
For Those Interested in Traveling to Help
The AAP does not send teams to disaster-impacted areas or endorse/approve any particular means of traveling to or volunteering in disaster-impacted areas. The security and safety of members continues to be a high priority, and members are urged to educate themselves about the reality of travel details, security issues, liability insurance, living conditions and other details regarding the provision of medical care in austere conditions. It is important that health care professionals carry copies of licenses and board certifications when traveling, as well as become knowledgeable about documentation needed when taking medicines into a foreign country.
Below are some resources that may be of interest:
- Health Care Volunteers and Disaster Response - First, Be Prepared
- International Medical Corps
- National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters
Other Ways to Help Out
Clinicians can learn more about Direct Relief, an organization that provides assistance to people and communities in all 50 states and more than 80 countries. Volunteer opportunities are available through the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.
Primary care providers are essential for promoting children's mental health and well-being throughout the recovery process following hurricanes. Strategies for clinicians are outlined on the AAP Helping Children Cope and Adjust after a Disaster web page.
- Post-Disaster Considerations for Pediatricians in Practice Handout (AAP)
- Flash Flood Recovery Information (HealthyChildren.org)
- Food, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Information for Use Before and After a Disaster or Emergency (CDC)
- Resources for Healthcare Professionals (ASPR TRACIE)
- Hurricanes and Storms: From Preparedness to Recovery, Strategies for a Brighter Future - PowerPoint slides (AAP)
- Primary Care Providers' Role in Supporting Children, Families, and Professional Self-Care Following Hurricanes and Other Disasters (CDC)
Public Service Announcements from the AAP/CDC
American Academy of Pediatrics