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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Emergency Preparedness Tips


By Chris Mackey

The terrorist attacks on 9/11, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, various mass casualty events and other man-made and natural disasters of recent years have thrown into sharp relief the vulnerabilities people with disabilities and their caregivers face during emergencies.  The field of emergency preparedness and response is continuing to improve how it addresses the unique concerns of individuals with access and functional needs (the current term to refer to people with disabilities.) While many gaps in knowledge and practice still exist, there is a fundamental idea that remains constant—personal preparedness starts with the individual.  It starts with you!  Continue reading for tips on how to prepare for year-round emergencies.


1.    Know What Kind of Emergencies Could Affect You the Most
Many factors can come into play that makes your community more susceptible to certain events more than others.  Parts of the United States West coast are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and wildfires.  The Atlantic and Gulf coasts frequently experience hurricanes. Certain Plains States are more prone to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms can occur anywhere and cause extensive damage.  Being in close proximity to chemical or nuclear power plants may require evacuating with only a moment’s notice.  Understanding your community’s vulnerability is the first step in being more prepared.  For more information, click here: https://www.ready.gov/plan-for-your-risks.

2.    Assess Your Personal Needs and Abilities, Make a Plan and a Kit, and Create a Support Network!

Plan According to Your Abilities and Daily Needs

Do you require assistance with self-care?  Do you use an assistive device such as a wheelchair or crutches? How do you communicate?  Will you need hearing aids or an interpreter when you go to a shelter?  What are your transportation needs? Would you feel particularly anxious in a new environment like a shelter?  How will you take care of your service animal?  Issues such as these should be integrated into emergency plans.  For more information about how to incorporate your functional needs into your emergency planning, go to: https://www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs.

Make a Plan and a Kit

Create a written plan for how you and your friends and family will remain in touch during an emergency.  Include cell phone numbers and meeting places.  Write down your medical information, including health care provider and your pharmacy.  Have an emergency kit ready to go.  In addition to your personal disability-related equipment, have enough food for each person for three days and one gallon of water per person, per day for three days.  Include provisions for your service animal.  Other basic items could include a flashlight, extra batteries, a first aid kit, local maps and even a weather radio.  For more information on making a plan and a kit review “Preparing Makes Sense For People With Disabilities, Others with Access and Functional,Needs and the Whole Community”.

Create a Personal Support Network

Identify family, friends, care attendants or others who can help you plan for and deal with emergencies.  These individuals can help you put together emergency kits, evaluate and find solutions for other needs such as transportation, and assist you in the aftermath of a disaster.  Ideally you should have a network for each location where you spend most of your time, (e.g. home, work, etc.) and a network should be no less than three people.  For more information on creating your personal support network, go to: https://www.readycolorado.com/tips-creating-personal-support-network.

3.    Preparedness Doesn’t Just Happen at Home
Emergencies can happen at any time in any location.   If you’re a person with a disability or a caregiver, have you thought about these factors?

At Work . . .

  •     Does your workplace practice emergency evacuation or other appropriate drills?
  •     Do these drills take your needs or the needs of other workers with disabilities into account?
  •     Is the evacuation route accessible?  Is there an alternate route if that one is blocked?
  •     Are all shelter areas accessible?
  •     Is there an evacuation chair or other assistive device to get people needing assistance?
  •     If you need assistance in a workplace emergency, do you have co-workers or others who can help you?  It’s important to have more than one person in case your primary contacts are absent. These individuals are your workplace personal support network. Resource: From the Ready.gov web site: https://www.ready.gov/business.

At School . . .

  • If you are the parent of a child with a disability, it’s important not to overlook how your child’s needs will be addressed in the event of a school emergency evacuation or drill
  • During an evacuation or sheltering drill, students with disabilities should be brought to safe areas just like everyone else.  For example, students with disabilities should be evacuated in a fire drill with their peers.
  • Have you considered addressing emergency evacuation in your child’s 504 Plan or IEP?
  • If you are a college student, have you considered how to evacuate your dorm?  Would you need accessible transportation if the campus was evacuated?
  • Resource: “Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Tool for School Students with
    Disabilities” from The National Fire Protection Association can be downloaded here.

Other Frequently Visited Locations . . .

  • Consider how emergencies are handled at and how to evacuate from daycare centers, places of worship, athletic venues or other commonly visited sites.

4.    What Does Wellness have to do with Preparedness?
Emergencies, be they small or large-scale, may ask a lot of an individual physically.  You may, for example, have to move quickly to evacuate a building or take shelter.  You and your caregiver may be required to traverse rough terrain, take alternate routes to get around, stay in an unfamiliar shelter or you might be separated from your personal assistive device for a time.  Maintaining a fitness routine will make situations like these easier to handle. Nutrition plays another key role.  Non-perishable food and an adequate supply of fresh water are essential parts of your emergency kit.  Rather than packing junk food, gather staples that are high in calories and nutritional value.  These will sustain you during extended periods in a shelter or during a power outage.  Also, don’t forget to consider any special dietary needs or food allergies you or other family members may have.

For further details about gathering emergency food and water supplies, check out this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response:  https://emergency.cdc.gov/preparedness/kit/food/.

5.    Get Involved!
There are many ways in which those with and without disabilities can build their own preparedness skills and help others in their community improve their readiness.

Community Emergency Response Teams, (CERTs.) 
CERTs began in the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 after a major earthquake.  They arose out of a need for communities affected by disaster to be more self-sufficient if first responders were not immediately available.  CERTs are teams of laypersons who have training in areas such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.  They can assist emergency personnel in a large scale event, but also serve a role in helping and educating citizens on how to be prepared.  In addition to outreach, CERT team members may have logistical or financial duties.  This variety of roles in addition to on-scene/incident activities offer people of varying ability levels an opportunity to participate.  CERTs fall under the auspices of the US Citizencorps.  You can find more information online at http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams.

Local Citizencorps Council
These Councils are made up of community leaders who help plan for emergencies and play a role in response efforts when disasters happen. Citizen Corps Councils also outreach and educate the public, offer training and participation in exercises and encourage volunteerism.
For more information go to: https://www.ready.gov/citizen-corps.

Participate in Emergency Drills
Contact your state or local emergency management agency to see if and when they have opportunities to participate in emergency drills.  Occasionally citizens can take part as “victims.”  This can give first responders real-life experience in treating people with disabilities.

Learn more about other ways to prepare your community here: https://www.ready.gov/serve-your-community.


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