A Brief Overview
- All families prepare for emergencies, but extra planning is critical when a loved one has a disability.
- For people with disabilities, The Red Cross provides a page dedicated to disaster safety that takes a step-by-step approach. Included are guidelines for creating a personal assessment and registering with a local emergency assistance program.
- Virginia Commonwealth University offers an Emergency Preparedness Tool Kit for People with Disabilities through its university center called Partnership for People with Disabilities. The downloadable, 29-page booklet includes checklists and resources.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, also provides a downloadable brochure: Preparing Makes Sense for People with Disabilities.
- Read on for additional resources and ideas about how to be informed and organized, with a disability-specific toolkit and emergency plans that are ready to roll if something unexpected does occur.
The potential for large scale natural and manmade emergency situations exist in Washington State. Everything from winter snowstorms and flooding to volcanic activity and/or earthquakes all contribute to the need to think about being prepared. Although rare, the possibility of a major catastrophe can stress a family that may already struggle with special circumstances on a day-to-day basis. Planning for a possible emergency by being informed and prepared can alleviate some of the stress and create a plan for everyone’s safety if something unexpected does occur.
To be fully prepared, a family may need an emergency plan and a survival kit to support to a loved one with additional needs that are specific to a disability. Following are guidelines for getting organized and ready, with each person’s individualized needs in mind. It is important to look at what to provide a sense of comfort and safety for those individuals who may have anxiety, sensory needs, or experience behavioral challenges. When going through the information below keep your family/individual needs in mind so that those important comfort and coping pieces are added to any kit you build. It’s not just the medicine but also a favorite blanket or stuffed toy, noise cancelling headphones, chargers or batteries for handheld devices to provide distraction and normalcy to an extremely stressful situation. Having things pulled together ahead of time reduces missing them when you have to move quickly.
Because there are different circumstances for different types of disaster scenarios it is important to look at what works best for staying put and when to go to a shelter. The Red Cross provides information on a page titled Be Informed to help determine which types of emergencies are most likely in a designated community. Some areas are more prone to forest fires, floods or earthquakes, for example. Consider whether local public systems share information or alert the public if something is happening or about to happen. Will there be a telephone alert or a broadcasted siren? Will there be an emergency broadcast to tune in? The Emergency Alert System (EAS) includes a statewide list of radio stations that broadcast emergency alerts by area.
Consider whether there are shelters nearby, or an evacuation route. The Red Cross encourages people to download the agency’s mobile app to receive local alerts that can include emergency-specific instructions in real time.
Make a plan
Create escape routes that are accessible to everyone within the household. Choose a meet-up spot after everyone has evacuated the home, property, or neighborhood. Consider accessibility based on the entire family’s needs: For example, will someone need to arrive at the meet-up spot by wheelchair? If someone will need a helper to evacuate, designate a helper and a back-up person to provide that support.
Tell emergency contacts about the family’s plan. Consider telling neighbors or nearby friends about where medications or mobility assistance devices (crutches, wheelchairs, walkers) are stored in case help is needed to get those things. The plan includes what may happen before, during and after a disaster.
The Red Cross provides a template for a 3-step plan, to be shared and verified with everyone who might be involved or recruited to help:
- All household members discuss how to prepare and respond to the types of emergencies most likely to happen where they live, learn, work and play.
- Identify responsibilities for each member of the household and plan a way to work as a team.
- Practice as many elements of the plan as possible.
Build a kit
Supplies that are organized and carefully chosen can make a big difference for survival and comfort when emergencies happen. Here are a few basics that can be stored strategically (in a backpack ready-to-grab or at a meet-up location, for example).
- Shelf-stable food and water
- First-aid kit
- Extra clothing
- Flashlight and batteries
- Sleeping bags
- Copies of important documents
The Department of Homeland Security manages a page called Build a Kit with more ideas. FEMA provides suggestions for additional items that can cater to individualized needs. For families with specific dietary restrictions or allergies, Legacy Foods provides resources and ideas. Other options for emergency preparation supplies include: Emergency Kits.com, Stealth Angel, and The Red Cross.
For people with disabilities, The Red Cross also has a page dedicated to disaster safety that takes a step-by-step approach. Included are guidelines for creating a personal assessment and registering with a local emergency assistance program.
Virginia Commonwealth University offers an Emergency Preparedness Tool Kit for People with Disabilities through a university center, Partnership for People with Disabilities. The downloadable booklet includes checklists and resources.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, provides a downloadable brochure: Preparing Makes Sense for People with Disabilities.
Planning for emergencies is not a one-and-done process. Families need to review plans and update kits regularly. Practicing the plan can create confidence that all are on the same page about what to do and where to go. Family members can quiz one another about the plan and keep in touch with neighbors and community members who might be called to help.
Being prepared for an emergency takes time and organization, but a thoughtful plan can help everyone be safer and more confident if called to respond.