Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities
As I write this, my house is surrounded with a thick blanket of smoke from the fires which are burning out of control all over California. The news from the Gulf Coast is that Hurricane Ida has made landfall, leaving destruction in its path. It’s a good day to talk about emergency preparedness.
Everyone needs a basic disaster kit. You can build your own from this list: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html. Or you can buy a kit online: https://www.redcross.org/store/preparedness.
Plan Your Evacuation Route
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has written an “Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities”. You can find it on their website: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Public-Education/By-topic/Disabilities/EvacuationGuidePDF.ashx. This booklet has a checklist which helps you focus your planning by asking questions about your planned route. For example, is your path free of obstacles? Is the ceiling at least 6 feet 8 inches high? The NFPA suggests that you share your evacuation plan with friends, family and neighbors. This is a very good idea for people who may need help to get out of their homes.
Emergency Alert Systems
Early warning can help people with disabilities avoid disasters or evacuate safely. Sign up for emergency alerts from the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/subscribe.html; or from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather service: https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=38.5794&lon=-121.4908. (Enter your city and state or zip code in the box at the upper left to see weather alerts for your area.) You can also download free apps for your phone: https://www.weather.gov/wrn/mobile-phone; or https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/mobile-apps.html, including voice-enabled apps. To find an app that gives you updates and alerts in your local area, go to https://www.ready.gov/alerts, or do an internet search for “disaster alerts near me”.
Register with Smart911
Register with your local first responders (police, firefighters, paramedics) on Smart 911. This database is funded by fees from public agencies. Open an account at https://www.smart911.com. Provide as much information as you like, including medical information, or details of any disabling condition. When you dial 911, your profile comes up on the operator’s screen. It will show the 911 operator any important facts that first responders need to know.
Emergency Power for Medical Equipment
You need to be prepared if you rely on gas or electricity for medical equipment. Use this checklist from the ADA National Network. https://adata.org/factsheet/emergency-power. Learn how to get priority reconnection from your utility company if your power goes out. You can also get help from your local fire department or hospital for backup power. The list also includes helpful hints to make sure your equipment will be ready when you need it.
Upload Documents to the Cloud
Take pictures of your most valuable documents with your phone and upload them to the cloud. You need conservatorship papers, advanced health care directives, lease or deed to your house and the front page of your insurance policies. A list of doctors and phone numbers, caregivers and emergency contacts would be helpful.
The California State Council on Developmental Disabilities has written “Let’s Get Prepared”, a guide to emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. This manual includes information on 9 different types of emergencies. It includes planning ideas for fire, flood, power outages and more. You can find it here: https://scdd.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2016/09/FINAL-DRAFT-5.1-Emergency-Prep-Handbook-Lets-Get-Prepared-2.17.2016-.pdf. The American Red Cross has also created general planning resources for people with disabilities at: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/inclusive-preparedness-resources.html.
Remember, we can live without things, but our friends and family are irreplaceable. Stay safe.