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Military Health System offers help before and after natural disasters

Picture of a helicopter The Coast Guard conducted Hurricane Ida post-storm overflights along the Gulf Coast. Assets conducted critical incident search and rescue overflights and assessing for damage along the Gulf Coast Region of Louisiana following the category-4 hurricane (Photo by: Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson).

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On August 29, Hurricane Ida - with its 15-mile wide eye-wall - slammed into the Louisiana coast, causing floods, destroying homes and cutting off electricity for millions of residents.

It was 16 years to the day after catastrophic Hurricane Katrina hit the same low-lying regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Hurricane Ida's landfall was just one in a series of storms that have struck the southeast during an especially devastating hurricane season. And it comes in a year when floods, wildfires and blizzards have damaged and disrupted regions across the country.

The series of natural disasters serves as constant reminder that daily routines can be upended at any moment.

The risks often vary by region. Those living in the Rocky Mountains, Texas, and the West Coast are at particular risk of wildfires with the peak season running from May through October. While more wildfires occur in Eastern and Central states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires in Western states are larger and burn more acreage.

People who live along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts face the possibility of a hurricane making landfall between June and November.

Fortunately, our active duty, Guard and Reserves plan for, prepare for and respond to these other natural disasters on a regular basis.

And the Military Health System also provides support in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Public Health Service, American Red Cross and others - part of the whole-of-government response to natural disasters.

TRICARE plays an important role before, during and after natural disasters, specifically with regard to disaster alerts and accessing emergency prescription refills. TRICARE experts recommend first signing up for disaster alerts. These alerts are sent via text and email, and give updated information from federal agencies and departments, state and local governments, and the news and other media.

Military personnel providing live aerial video streaming to fire bosses
Master Sgt. Brent Hill, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, controls the infrared imagery on an RC26 in support of burn operations on the Beckwourth Fire in California from western Nevada July 13, 2021. Hill is part of a team of imagery experts providing live aerial video streaming to fire bosses working on the front lines of the California wildfires (Photo by: Air Force Staff Sgt. William Gray).

Recent events led to disaster alerts for flooding in Tennessee; Hurricane Henri along the East Coast; Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama; and wildfires in California and Nevada.

The TRICARE disaster information resource webpage offers additional advice for preparing for possible evacuation.

Some basic disaster preparedness tips pulled from a variety of sources, include:

  • Plan your exit. Identify a safe escape route as well as a place to shelter outside of the evacuation area. Make sure you share your plan with someone who lives outside of the affected area. Make sure your vehicles are gassed up far in advance.
  • Make a list. This list should include your health care providers' names and contact information, medications with dosage and frequency, and type and model number of any medical devices you use.
  • Get it together. Gather immunization records, insurance paperwork, and medical documents in a waterproof container that's easy to carry. Put together a basic first-aid kit, and make sure you have enough medication to cover your time away.
  • Be mindful of special needs. Those with chronic health conditions or issues with vision, hearing, or mobility should get medical alert tags or bracelets, and identify how they will arrange to get disaster warnings and find assistance to safety.
  • Build your kit. What items will you need to survive an extended time away from your residence, or if you plan to shelter-in-place? Water. Food. Radio. Flashlight.
  • Plan for your pets. For those with pets, the U.S. Army Public Health Center publication Vet Connections recommends gathering an emergency kit that includes a two-week supply of pet food, water, and any medications. Make sure you have copies of vaccination and medical records as well.

Another resource in planning for potential natural disasters is the Federal Emergency Management Agency guide "Are You Ready." This 200-page, in-depth guide offers information for people to protect themselves and their families in case of weather emergencies, wildfires, and other hazards.

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