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Disability Emergency Planning

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One in five people reading this post have a disability. We talk a lot about leaving the house quickly or being forced to stay home for long periods and the things you can do to stay healthy and safe during emergencies. However, for people with disabilities, the basic precautions are different. The CDC reported this story:

“In 2008, a rare winter storm buried Portland, Oregon under more than a foot of snow. The city was gridlocked. Nickole Chevron was stuck in her home for eight days. Many people would consider that an inconvenience. For Nickole, whose muscles are too weak to support her body, those eight days were potentially life threatening. Born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that progressively weakens the body’s muscles, Nickole is fully reliant on a wheelchair and full-time caregivers for most routine tasks. Being alone for eight days was not an option.”

Nickole signed up for a program called “Ready Now!” an emergency preparedness training program developed by the Oregon Office of Disability and Health. The program helped Nickole develop a backup plan in case of an emergency. Her plan included finding out which of her caregivers lived close and who was available, getting a generator, extra wheelchair batteries and a week’s supply of food, water and prescription medicine.

The Red Cross and FEMA stress that you shouldn’t automatically rely on first responders. In a disaster, time can be an issue and you are the best person to plan for your own safety. You should:

  • Get informed
  • Make a plan
  • Assemble a kit
  • Maintain your plan and kit

First, if you or someone you care for has a disability, think through emergency scenarios:

  • Identify emergency situations that may affect your geography
  • Talk about how an emergency may affect independence

Second, make a plan:

  • Make a list of emergency contact information and keep it handy
  • Develop an evacuation plan
  • Learn about alternate transportation and routes.
  • Understand the responsibilities and limitations of a “first responder” (for example, members of your local fire department of law enforcement office) during a disaster.

Third, assemble a kit:

  • Assemble an emergency kit of food, water and personal supplies that are accessible
  • Ensure pets and service animals have a stock of emergency food and medication
  • Keep a charged car battery at home. It can power electric wheelchairs and other motorized medical equipment if there is an electricity outage
  • Kit supplies should include:
    • Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
    • First aid kit and manual
    • Sanitation and hygiene items (hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, 
and toilet paper)
    • Matches in waterproof container
    • Whistle
    • Extra clothing and blankets
    • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils
    • Photocopies of identification and credit cards
    • Cash and coins
    • Special needs items such as prescription medications, eye glasses, 
contact lens solution, and hearing aid batteries
    • Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers
    • Tools, pet supplies, a map of the local area, and other items to meet 
your unique family need.

More information about preparedness for people with disabilities can be found here on the Red Cross website.

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