Disasters can strike quickly and without warning, forcing people to leave or be confined in their home. People with disabilities and their family members should make plans to protect themselves in the event of an emergency. It is also important that first responders know how to evacuate people with disabilities safely and quickly.
Disaster preparedness and emergency response systems are typically designed for people without disabilities, for whom escape or rescue involves walking, running, driving, seeing, hearing, and quickly responding to directions.
Studies have concluded that sometimes disaster advice for the general population is not equally applicable to people with disabilities. Likewise, emergency preparedness information often is not available in accessible formats (e.g., Braille, large print, disks, audio cassettes, and accessible media, including Web sites or captioned and audio-described films and videos) and many community emergency public warning systems remain inaccessible to a segment of the disability community with hearing or vision disabilities.
If you anticipate needing assistance during a disaster, ask family, friends and others to be part of your plan. Share each aspect of your emergency plan with everyone in your group, including a friend or relative in another area who would not be impacted by the same emergency who can help if necessary. Include the names and numbers of everyone in your personal support network, as well as your medical providers in your emergency supply kit.
Make sure that someone in your personal support network has an extra key to your home and knows where you keep your emergency supplies.
If you use a wheelchair or other medical equipment, show friends how to use these devices so they can move you if necessary and teach them how to use any lifesaving equipment or administer medicine in case of an emergency. Practice your plan with those who have agreed to be part of your personal support network.
Inform your employer and co-workers about your disability and let them know specifically what assistance you will need in an emergency. Talk about communication difficulties, physical limitations, equipment instructions and medication procedures. Always participate in trainings and emergency drills offered by your employer.
Decide what you will be able to do for yourself and what assistance you may need before, during and after a disaster. This will be based on the environment after the disaster, your capabilities and your limitations.
To complete a personal assessment, make a list of your personal needs and your resources for meeting them in a disaster environment. Think about the following questions and note your answers in writing or record them on a tape cassette that you will share with your network. These answers should describe both your current capabilities and the assistance you will need. Base your plan on your lowest anticipated level of functioning.
Use this list below to help evaluate your needs:
- Personal Care - Do you regularly need assistance with personal care, such as bathing and grooming? Do you use adaptive equipment to help you get dressed?
- Water Service - What will you do if water service is cut off for several days or if you are unable to heat water?
- Personal Care Equipment - Do you use a shower chair, tub-transfer bench or other similar equipment?
- Adaptive Feeding Devices - Do you use special utensils that help you prepare or eat food independently?
- Electricity-Dependent Equipment - How will you continue to use equipment that runs on electricity, such as dialysis, electrical lifts, etc.? Do you have a safe back-up power supply and how long will it last?
- Disaster Debris - How will you cope with the debris in your home or along your planned exit route following the disaster?
- Transportation - Do you need a specially equipped vehicle or accessible transportation?
- Errands - Do you need help to get groceries, medications and medical supplies? What if your caregiver cannot reach you because roads are blocked or the disaster has affected him or her as well?
- Building Evacuation - Do you need help to leave your home or office? Can you reach and activate an alarm? Will you be able to evacuate independently without relying on auditory cues (such as noise from a machine near the stairs – these cues may be absent if the electricity is off or alarms are sounding)?
- Building Exits - Are there other exits (stairs, windows or ramps) if the elevator is not working or cannot be used? Can you read emergency signs in print or Braille? Do emergency alarms have audible and visible features (marking escape routes and exits) that will work even if electrical service is disrupted?
- Getting Help - How will you call or summon for the help you will need to leave the building? Do you know the locations of text telephones and phones that have amplification? Will your hearing aids work if they get wet from emergency sprinklers? Have you determined how to communicate with emergency personnel if you don’t have an interpreter, your hearing aids aren’t working, or if you don’t have a word board or other augmentative communication device?
- Mobility Aids/Ramp Access - What will you do if you cannot find your mobility aids? What will you do if your ramps are shaken loose or become separated from the building?
- Service Animals/Pets - Will you be able to care for your animal (provide food, shelter, veterinary attention, etc.) during and after a disaster? Do you have another caregiver for your animal if you are unable to meet its needs? Do you have the appropriate licenses for your service animal so you will be permitted to keep it with you should you need or choose to use an emergency public shelter?
You should keep specialized items ready, including extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, food for service animals and any other items you might need.
Keep a list of the type and model numbers of the medical devices you require.
If you use an electric wheelchair or scooter, have a manual wheelchair for backup
Remember other personal items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids and hearing aid batteries.
Consider getting a medical alert system that will allow you to call for help if you are immobilized in an emergency. Most alert systems require a working phone line, so have a back-up plan, such as a cell phone or pager, if the regular landlines are disrupted.
If you take medicine or use a medical treatment on a daily basis, be sure you have what you need on hand to make it on your own for at least a week and keep a copy of your prescriptions as well as dosage or treatment information. If it is not possible to have a week-long supply of medicines and supplies, keep as much as possible on hand and talk to your pharmacist or doctor about what else you should do to prepare.
If you undergo routine treatments administered by a clinic or hospital, or if you receive regular services such as home health care, treatment or transportation, talk to your service provider about their emergency plans. Work with them to identify back-up service providers within your area and other areas you might evacuate to.
Have copies of your medical insurance and Medicare cards readily available. Keep a list of the style and serial number of medical devices or other life-sustaining devices. Include operating information and instructions. Include the names and contact information of your support network, as well as your medical providers. If you have a communication disability, make sure your emergency information notes the best way to communicate with you. Keep these documents in a water proof container for quick and easy access.
Disaster Preparedness Resources for People with Disabilities
- Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs – This booklet from FEMA and the American Red Cross helps people with disabilities prepare for all kinds of emergencies.
- Disability Preparedness – This website from Disabilitypreparedness.gov provides information on how to prepare, develop a plan, use assistive technologies, and understand your rights.
- Partners in Preparedness Brochure – The Partners in Preparedness brochure is designed to encourage emergency management professionals to consider the varied needs of people with disabilities in all levels of their planning and response activities, and to actively involve members of this community in their efforts; and raise awareness among people with disabilities about what they can do to prepare for their own safety and survival during emergencies.
- National Council on Disability – Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning – The report examines disaster experiences of people with disabilities and activity limitations and how their access to disaster services could be improved.
- Ready.gov Brochure – Prepare For Emergencies Now: Information For People With Disabilities
- Nobody Left Behind: Disaster Preparedness for Persons with Mobility Impairments
- CDC – Disabilities: Emergency Preparedness Training: http://www.cdc.gov/features/emergencypreparedness/index.html
- National Council on Disability – Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning: http://www.ncd.gov/rawmedia_repository/fd66f11a_8e9a_42e6_907f_a289e54e5f94?document.pdf p12
- National Council on Disability – Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning: http://www.ncd.gov/rawmedia_repository/fd66f11a_8e9a_42e6_907f_a289e54e5f94?document.pdf p.29
- Image Source: http://odr.dc.gov/ [Accessed: April 25, 2014]
- Ready.gov Brochure – Prepare For Emergencies Now: Information For People With Disabilities: http://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/PrinterFriendly_Disabilities_1.pdf
- FEMA Brochure – Preparing for Disaster f or People with Disabilities and other Special Needs: http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4240199_A4497.pdf