- Special Needs Alliance - https://www.specialneedsalliance.org -

Don’t Let an Emergency Find You Unprepared

By Elizabeth L. Gray, Esq. [1]

While snowstorms, fires and other disasters can plunge entire communities into chaos, the challenges for those with disabilities are often even more acute. But with careful planning, individuals with special needs and their families can reduce the disruption.

Get Informed

Begin by contacting your local emergency management office to understand what arrangements are in place to handle disasters, including warning systems, shelters and evacuation of those without their own transportation. Communities often ask individuals with disabilities to register with the local fire or police department in order to speed needed assistance to them.

Make a Plan

Support Network

Family members should determine who will call whom to check on their safety during an emergency. Establish a place for everyone to meet. If you live alone, identify individuals who will contact you to determine your safety and provide any needed help. If you have an agency-provided caregiver, learn their policy for handling emergencies.

Personal Assessment

What would happen if suddenly you were without water, heat, electricity or phone? What if your caregiver couldn’t reach you? Think through how important routines would be interrupted and what additional assistance would be needed.

Consider how you would respond to different emergencies. Basements, often used to shelter from tornados, may not be wheelchair-accessible In case of fire, evacuation will be necessary, so ensure that primary and secondary exits are accessible and that you can find them in the dark or if obscured by heavy smoke.

While public shelters are required by law to admit service animals [2], other pets may not be allowed. Identify individuals and “pet-friendly” locations where you can take other loved animals during an emergency.

Be sure that all members of your support network are familiar with your plan, have necessary keys and can operate assistive devices.

Make a Kit

Stock emergency supplies, and organize an “evacuation kit” that you can grab at a moment’s notice. Items could include:

When disaster hits

Before and after an emergency situation arises, closely monitor the radio or tv for the latest news concerning local conditions and shelters. Note which shelters are accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. You’ll be glad that you’ve planned ahead. A little preparation can make all the difference when disaster pays a visit.