June marks the beginning of the hurricane season, and although most hurricanes that impact the Texas Gulf Coast occur later in the year, it’s never too early to prepare in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. Because Montrose Counseling Center has been a hub for members of the GLBT communities following hurricanes Katrina, Rita – and most recently Ike – we have put together a disaster preparedness guide.
The guide provides some basic information about putting together a plan should you need to evacuate or shelter in place.
It is not always easy for our target population to receive the same level of services when facing a disaster, so it’s important to do some legwork ahead of time. For example, when people evacuated to Houston from Hurricane Katrina, nobody anticipated the levees would break and that people would be away from their homes for an extended period of time. Mass public shelters are a stressful environment for anyone, to be sure, but evacuees who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or HIV+ face some additional issues. Are you able to stay with your partner like other families that are kept together? Can you openly hold hands and hug? Cuddle one another? What would the reaction of the shelter workers be, especially if it’s through a faith-based organization. What would the reaction of the other shelter residents be? What if you are transgender and need to shower? What if you’re taking HIV medication and you left home with only what you would need for a couple days and didn’t have your prescription with you? If you had to relocate to another state, would you be able to get those prescriptions filled readily? And what if you take medication that needs to be refrigerated and the electricity goes out and ice is scarce? What if you need to take your medication with food and the stores are closed for days? Do you and your partner have all the legal documents you need to establish your relationship, such as wills, power of attorney, and advanced directives?
Even if you’ve been out for years, you may be faced with disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity in ways that are not comfortable in order to get the assistance you need. These are concerns that aren’t always discussed when preparing for a disaster, and situations that may make you feel vulnerable. The most critical part of preparing in advance is to have a plan. Know ahead of time that there may be circumstances in which you have to ask for help from others, which isn’t easy.
Get a copy of all your prescriptions and write down what they are, what you take them for, what the dosage is, and what happens if you don’t take the medication. Keep it in a water-tight container, along with important phone numbers for any doctors you are seeing, your therapist or psychiatrist, and the pharmacy where you get your prescriptions filled.
Put together a phone tree of contact information; including cell phone numbers, since it is sometimes easier to text message one another when the cell phone network is overwhelmed. Make sure you and your loved ones have some basic text messaging ability so that you can check in with one another.
Finally, remember to take care of your emotional wellbeing. Consider the stress impact a disaster imposes on individuals, couples, families and extended relationships. Some people may never show any sign of stress. Some are able to handle it by talking about it with friends, while others may need the help of a professional therapist or clergy member. Some people turn to coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol, and that can lead to a whole host of issues, such as financial stress, fidelity problems, anger, resentment, aggression and even domestic abuse/violence. Stress may take days, weeks and even months to show up. If you do need to talk to someone who understands what you are going through, please give us a call and make an appointment. We are here for you.