Individuals Requiring Additional Assistance in a Disaster:Think Beyond the Emergency Kit

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Looking at the situation in New York and New Jersey we can see two time-streams of emergency preparedness and response: there is the immediate onset of crisis and then there are the accumulating factors for people who have not considered themselves particularly vulnerable, but find that their health and well-being is becoming compromised during the days of repair and recovery. This “grey zone” requires as much attention and planning as pre-disaster preparedness planning and the initial emergency response.

Do you have the personal -care items you need?

The dual unfolding of a catastrophy as an immediate crisis and an ongoing disaster means people with disabilities need to think beyond the emergency kit and think about systems. Of course, taking your emergency kit seriously is crucial: we can see that people effected by Hurricane Sandy did not have enough food, flashlights, clothing, water, or places to go to the bathroom. Listing what you need and keeping these items in stock is a safety requirement no one can afford to ignore.

Recharging batteries and maintaining power to electrical dispensing systems can become a matter of survival very quickly. For this need in particular, registries are unavoidable. If you want people to be able to help you – they need to know where you are and what accommodations you most require. These lists need to be maintained by local town or city jurisdictions, marketing annually (if not more often) by city officials in sign-up campaigns, and updated regularly – by the individuals who want the chance of accessible rescue.

Do you have a network of people who know your plan and will remember to look out for you? 

Like it or not, the burden of survival is on each individual, which is why you need to ensure there is a network of people who know your plan and will remember to look out for you. This network could include:

  • personal care attendants
  • parents
  • extended family: cousins, aunts or uncles
  • friends
  • neighbors

In other words, your network should be anyone who is willing to accept some degree of accountability for your general safety. These network people should help you design your personal plan: they can help you create an evacuation procedure as well as a shelter-in-place plan.

You and your network should be clear on the location and routes of travel to accessible shelters, as well as being sure you have a 7-10 day supply of food, water, medication, batteries, etc., either in storage at your home or near enough for delivery by someone in your network. If you use a PCA you may need extra supplies for that individual. If you have a service animal food, water, identification (both paper and on the animal) are all important items to plan for.

Think about what would happen if your network people are unavailable:

  • What is your back-up plan?
  • Who will you call?
  • How will you contact them? and
  • Are they prepared to suddenly provide the kinds of assistance you need?

Are you ready to evacuate or accept help?

Being able to move about before a storm is better and easier then having to try to negotiate after a storm – which may not even be possible. Navigating after a storm is more complicated for everyone, and especially if you have vision or mobility disabilities. You’ve got to think through your comfort level with being rescued by people you do not know (especially for people with Asperger’s Syndrome), keeping in mind that they also do not know you or your specific needs. You’ve got to be ready to show them what you need to bring with you.

At the systems level, it would be helpful to learn if wheelchair users tend to evacuate (if so, how?) or stay put when evacuation orders are issued (if so, why?); whether or not they have a back-up manual wheelchair (if a manual wheelchair can accommodate them); and how will they manage if they are removed from their home without a wheelchair? What transportation plans have been tested and approved for moving people with their wheelchairs and other mobility aids (white canes, service animals, etc.).

Are you ready to communicate?

Communicating among one’s survival network as well as sharing information with friends and family must also be carefully planned. When the power goes out, most modern technology also fails. Old-fashioned landline telephones are the most secure system, with online social media available to those who can recharge cellphone batteries in their vehicles (provided the wireless towers remain powered). The provision of sign language interpreters at press conferences should become an icon of public communication: if an interpreter is on television, something serious is happening—you should pay attention!

 Therefore, start planning now! There are many great resources to help you. Here are two:

Here is a list of aggregated preparedness resources from Disability.gov.

Employers’ Guide to Including Employees with Disabilities in Emergency Evacuation Plans (pattidudek.typepad.com)

 

 

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