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Natural Disaster Preparation: What You Need to Know

Image of a woman reading. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alexandra Vidato, 459th Airlift Squadron instructor flight engineer, tapes a box of simulated humanitarian aid prior to takeoff for a Tokyo Metropolitan Government-hosted disaster preparedness and response drill at Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, Japan, Sept. 3, 2022. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Edwards, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs)

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this article was published July 7, 2022. It has been updated to reflect current events and how TRICARE health plans supports beneficiaries before, during, and after disasters.)

With Hurricane Ian leaving a path of destruction across Florida, and thousands still without power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona—natural disasters can turn a quiet season into a devastating one.

An array of disasters, such as hurricanes, cyclones, massive wildfires, heat waves, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, and mud slides, now seem to be everyday risks.

So, how should you prepare for an evacuation affecting your family and pets? Or even losing your home?

Start by creating a basic disaster emergency kit and create a plan to get back together as a family in the event of a disaster. Watching this disaster preparedness video can help you create your kit.

“The most important things you should have is the basic life-saving equipment,” said Christopher Springer, head of emergency management at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

That means flashlights, radios, and batteries to support that equipment, as well as electronics chargers.

“Then look at your actual household to think about your family members who have special needs or special medications, then build each emergency preparedness kit for your home and your family,” Springer said.

TRICARE Is There for You

TRICARE has information and checklists on what to do before, during, and after a disaster, and your benefits during a disaster.

These may include:

• Early prescription refills

• Blanket waivers for referrals and authorizations

• Other emergency benefits

The TRICARE website is your go-to source for disaster alerts that communicate these temporary benefit changes and steps to take. For example, to get an emergency prescription refill, contact your pharmacy to help ensure your medication is in stock and that your pharmacy is operating. If that isn’t possible, you can refill your prescription at any TRICARE retail network pharmacy.

Locate a network pharmacy in your area or call Express Scripts, the TRICARE retail network pharmacy manager, at 1-877-363-1303 for assistance. To control potential out-of-pocket costs, it’s always best to use a network pharmacy.

Blanket waivers, also called referral waivers, can help you find medical care when you or your family needs it in certain areas under a state of emergency. When you receive a disaster alert from TRICARE, it will let you know if a referral waiver has been issued.

If you get medical care after a referral waiver, be sure to keep your receipts and file any claims with TRICARE as soon as possible. You can also visit the Find a Doctor tool to locate a health care provider near you or contact your TRICARE Managed Care Support Contractor if you have any questions.

Your Pets

For your pets, the Army Public Health Center recommends gathering an emergency kit with a two-week supply of pet food, water, toys, leashes, crates, and any medications. Make sure you have copies of pets’ vaccination and medical records as well.

Some emergency shelters require crates for pets, and some only accept service animals. It's a good idea to identify pet-friendly housing options outside of the evacuation area.

Make sure your pet's ID tags include your current contact information. You also may want to ask your veterinarian about getting your pet microchipped in case you’re separated during an emergency.

Hurricanes and Lessons Learned

In the eastern U.S., people are more likely to see hurricanes, flooding, and tornados. This year, the government predicts a likely range of three to six major hurricanes. Tornados and flooding already have caused devastation to entire towns in the South and Southeast.

For the staff of Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, the impact of hurricanes became all too real, when Hurricane Michael devastated the base in October 2018. Many base personnel and families lived in the surrounding community, which had to rebuild following the hurricane.

“One of the biggest lessons we learned after the Tyndall was destroyed was to understand what your insurance plan says,” said Robert Genova, the Emergency Management Operations support manager at Tyndall.

“Once the storm has passed, what are you authorized to do, such as having a contractor put tarp on your roof, and will your insurance pay for that?” he advised. “You need to understand what kind of limitations you have on your insurance.”

Preparedness Toolkits

Every military service has a guide and thorough preparedness toolkit localized to the installation and outside-of-base housing. New service members or PCS’ed families get initial information on the local hazards during their orientation briefings.

For example, the Air Force’s Be Ready guide is an authoritative and highly thorough reference source for all types of natural, man-made, technological and terrorism-related disasters.

The guide helps military families prepare for those events and runs the gamut from basic preparation to exactly how to deal with most any type of disaster.

Other Resources

Other disaster emergency resources include:

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Military OneSource

• The National Homeland Security Agency for those with disabilities or seniors

• Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA) for government assistance after a disaster

Remember to always be prepared, watch, and listen for news about natural disasters in your area, and be ready to move quickly to get out of danger zones.

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