Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities

Where will you, your family, your friends or personal caregiver be when an emergency or disaster strikes?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million Americans have a disability.  This number represents about one-fifth of the U.S. population.  Recent Harris polls indicate that over half of the disabled population not only don’t have a plan,  they have no idea who to contact for assistance in preparing for a disaster.

According to a survey released by The National Organization on Disability, 46 percent of people with disabilities, like those people in wheelchairs, say they do not know whom to contact about emergency plans for their community in the event of a terrorist attack or other crisis. 53 percent say that they have no plans to quickly and safely evacuate their home.  34 percent of those who are employed say that no plans have been made to safely evacuate their workplace.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that response and emergency preparedness programs be accessible to those with disabilities. President Bush gave an executive order that created the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and individuals with Disabilities.  Unfortunately the council only “encourages” state and local jurisdictions to consider special needs in its planning.

Disabled-rights advocates say that those with disabilities have concerns that most non disabled people may not consider during an emergency.  Traditional evacuation plans which usually rely on at the very least some walking, driving, seeing and hearing, are not appropriate for many with disabilities.

Everyone needs a plan and there are things you can do now to be prepared.

1. Learn about the types of disasters that may impact your community like blizzards,
earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados or floods. You can get more information from
your local Emergency Management Office

2. Find out what plans are in place.  Look over those plans to see if they have
considered your special needs

3. Make a list of your needs before during and after a disaster

4. Create your own Emergency Plan for home, work, and school

5. Pack a “ready kit” and go bag with essential items to take with you if you must
leave immediately. Also store supplies in your mobility vehicle.

Emergency Preparedness Suggestions for Mobility Disabilities

1. Extra battery for your motorized wheelchair or scooter

2. Heavy gloves to use while wheeling or make your way over glass and debris

3. Patch kit to repair flat tires

4. Spare cane or walker

5. Jumper cables or recharging device

6. Minimum two-week supply of medicine or prescriptions

7. Make sure your wheelchair van or mobility vehicle has a full tank of gas

8. Register with your local utility company if you are electricity dependent because
of medical equipment. They can flag your home to bring power up quickly.
Consider getting a generator and battery backups

Emergency Preparedness Suggestions for Sensory Disabilities

1.  Pad and paper, pens and pencils

2.  Extra batteries for tape recorders, portable teletype phone, etc

3.  Folding mobility cane or walker

4.  Food and medicine for your service animal

5.  Plastic bags, disposable gloves, and other items for your service animal

6.  Minimum two-week supply of medicine or prescriptions

Other Emergency Preparedness Considerations for Disabilities

1. Create a support network of friends and family to help you in an emergency

2. Be sure your support network knows where you keep your emergency supplies

3. Give one member of your support network a key to your house or apartment

4. Contact your city or county government’s emergency information and
management office.  Many local offices keep lists of people with disabilities so
they can be located quickly in a sudden emergency

5. Wear medical alert tags or bracelets to help identify your disability

6. If you are dependent on dialysis or other life sustaining treatment, know
the location of more than one facility

7. Show others how to operate your wheelchair and wheelchair vehicle lift

8. Make sure that you and your support network have each others contact
information and alternate ways to communicate if phones are out

A disaster can strike at any time – sometimes without warning. Planning and careful attention to detail is the best way to create an effective disaster plan.