Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

If your household includes someone with a disability, you should take additional steps to ensure that your specific needs are addressed in emergency situations. Preparation may seem like a lot of work. Preparing does take time and effort, so do a little at a time, as your energy and budget permit. The important thing is to start preparing. The more you do, the more confident you will be that you can protect yourself, your family, and your belongings.

You should be prepared to spend an extended length of time on your own in the event of a large-scale emergency.

If you take medicine, be sure you have what you need on hand to make it on your own for at least a week. If it is not possible to have a week-long supply of medicines and treatment supplies, keep as much as possible on hand and talk to your pharmacist or doctor about what else you should do to prepare.

Keep a copy of important documents in your emergency kit including a list of prescriptions, medical history, essential phone numbers and information related to equipment or life-saving devices.

Establish a Personal Support Network

A personal support network is made up of individuals who will check with you in an emergency to ensure you are alright, and give you assistance, if needed. A support network may include family, friends, personal attendants, neighbors or co-workers. It’s best to have more than one person in your support network at every location where you spend significant amounts of time, such as your home and your place of employment. If you rely on a personal assistance service (attendant), this type of assistance may not be available after a disaster. Therefore it is vital that your personal support network consists of different people than those who are your personal attendants.

If you employ a personal attendant or use the services of a home health agency or other type of in home service, discuss with these people a plan for what you will do in case of an emergency. How will you get along in an emergency for as long as 7 days? A critical element to consider in your emergency planning is the establishment of a personal support network.

Work out support relationships with several individuals. Identify a minimum of three people at each location where you regularly spend a significant part of your week: job, home, school, volunteer site, etc.

In spite of your best planning, sometimes a personal support network must be created on the spot. For example you may find yourself in a shelter and needing to assemble help for immediate assistance. Think about what you will need, how you want it done and what kind of person you would select.

Make sure everyone in your support network knows your emergency plans. This includes methods of contact, evacuation routes and location of emergency supplies. If you use medical equipment, show support network members how to operate it.

Seven Important Items to Discuss, Give to and Practice with Your Personal Support Network

  1. Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance.
  2. Exchange important keys.
  3. Show where you keep emergency supplies.
  4. Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card.
  5. Agree and practice a communications system regarding how to contact each other in an emergency. Do not count on the telephones working.
  6. You and your personal support network should always notify each other when you are going out of town and when you will return.
  7. The relationship should be mutual. Learn about each other's needs and how to help each other in an emergency. You could be responsible for food supplies and preparation, organizing neighborhood watch meetings, interpreting, etc.

Traveling

When staying in hotels/motels identify yourself to registration desk staff as a person who will need assistance in an emergency and state the type of assistance you may need.

Health Card

An emergency health information card:

Make multiple copies of this card to keep in emergency supply kits, car, work, wallet (behind driver's license or primary identification card), wheelchair pack, etc.

Emergency Contact List

Ask several relatives or friends who live outside your immediate area (approximately 100 miles away) to act as a clearing house for information about you and your family after a quake. It is often easier to place an out of state long distance call from a disaster area, than to call within the area. All family members should know to call the contact person to report their location and condition. Once contact is made, have the contact person relay messages to your other friends and relatives outside the disaster area. This will help to reduce calling into and out of the affected area once the phones are working.

Besides emergency out-of-town contacts, list should include personal support network, equipment vendors, doctors, utility companies, employers, schools, day care centers, or other family or household members.

Emergency Documents

These documents include important information typically needed after a disaster.

Store emergency documents in your home emergency supply kits. Copies of life saving information (i.e., specifications for adaptive equipment or medical devices should be in all of your emergency kits and medication lists should be on your health card) should be stored in all of your emergency kits. Other emergency documents should be kept together with your home emergency pack — family records, wills, deeds, social security number, charge and bank accounts, etc., for access in an emergency. These should be stored in sealed freezer bags with copy sent to out-of-state contacts.

Additional Tip Sheets are available to cover above topics in more detail can be found at Ready.gov.

Conduct an "Ability Self-Assessment"

Evaluate your capabilities, limitations and needs, as well as your surroundings to determine what type of help you will need in an emergency.

  1. Will you be able to independently shut off the necessary utilities (gas, water, electricity)?
    • Do you know where shut-off valves are?
    • Can you get to them?
    • Can you find and use the right wrench to turn those handles?
  2. Can you operate a fire extinguisher?
    • Have you practiced?
    • Will extended handles make these items usable for you?
  3. Will you be able to carry your evacuation kit?
    • What do you need to do in order to carry it?
    • How much can you carry regularly?
    • Do you have duplicates at other locations?
  4. Have you moved or secured large objects that might block your escape path?
  5. Write instructions for the following (keep a copy with you and share a copy with your personal support network):
    1. How to turn off utilities; color-code or label these for quick identification.
      • Main gas valve, located next to the meter - blue; Electrical power circuit breaker box - red; and Main water valve -
      • green.
      • If you have a reduced or limited sense of smell, alert your personal support network to check gas leaks.
    2. How to operate and safely move your essential equipment. Consider attaching simple to read and understand instructions to your equipment.
    3. How to safely transport you if you need to be carried, and include any areas of vulnerability.
    4. How to provide personal assistance services.
      • Remind anyone who assists you to practice strict cleanliness and keep fingers out of mouth. With limited water and increased health hazards, the possibility of infection increases. Keep a supply of latex gloves in your emergency supply kit and ask people assisting you with personal hygiene to use them.
      • List all personal care assistance needs (dressing, bathing, etc.) with instructions on how best to assist you.
      • Make a map of where to find medications, aids and supplies. Share with your personal support network.
    5. How will you evacuate? Be aware of barriers and possible hazards to a clear path of exit. Change what you are able to change (clear obstacles from aisles; secure large, heavy items such as bookcases that may fall to block your path). Plan alternate exit paths.

Communication: Practice Assertiveness Skills

Be prepared to request an accommodation from disaster personnel. For example, if you are unable to wait in long lines for extended periods of time, for such items as water, food, and disaster relief applications, practice clearly and concisely explaining why you cannot wait in the line.

Supplies to Keep with You at All Times

Packing/Container suggestions: a fanny pack, back pack or drawstring bag which can be hung from a wheelchair, scooter or other assistive device.

Disability-Related Supplies for Emergency Kits

Store supplies in areas you anticipate will be easy to reach after an emergency. Others may be able to share traditional emergency supplies, but you need these store on top and in separate labeled bag. If you have to leave something behind, make sure you get these.

Plan for enough disability-related supplies for up to two weeks (medication syringes, colostomy, respiratory, catheter, padding, distilled water, etc.). If you have a respiratory, cardiac or multiple chemical sensitivities condition, store towels, masks, industrial respirators or other supplies you can use to filter your air supply. Do not expect shelters or first aid stations to meet your supply needs. In an emergency supplies will be limited.

If you are unable to afford extra supplies consider contacting one of the many disability-specific organizations such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Arthritis Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy Association, etc. These organizations may be able to assist you in gathering extra low cost or no cost emergency supplies or medications.

Medication

It is best if you are able to maintain at least a 7 to 14 day supply of essential medications (heart, blood pressure, birth control, diabetic, psychiatric orphan drugs, etc.) and keep this supply with you at all times. If this is not possible, even maintaining a three day supply would be extremely helpful.

Work with your doctor(s) to obtain an extra supply of medications, as well as extra copies of prescriptions. Ask if it would be safe to go without one dosage periodically, until an adequate supply has been accumulated? Make several copies of your prescriptions and put one copy in each of your survival kits, car kit, wallet, with your Emergency Documents and your evacuation plan.

Ask your provider or pharmacist about the shelf life and storage temperature sensitivities of your medication. Ask how often you should rotate stored medication to ensure that the effectiveness of the medication does not weaken due to excess storage time. If you are on medications which are administered to you by a clinic or hospital (such as methadone, or chemo or radiation therapy) ask your provider how you should plan for a 3 - 14 day disruption.

If you are a smoker, be aware that smoking will not be allowed in shelters. If getting to an outside smoking area may be difficult for you, consider stocking your evacuation kit with nicotine gum or patches available by prescriptions.

Life in cramped, unheated shelters can increase the chances of pneumonia, influenza and colds; therefore, equip your kits with any vitamins or medications you take to guard against getting sick and to cope with being sick.

Equipment and Assistive Devices

Keep important equipment and assistive devices in a consistent, convenient and secured place, so you can quickly and easily locate them. Make sure these items such as teeth, hearing aids, prosthesis, mobility aid, cane, crutches, walker, respirator, service animal harness, augmentative communication device or electronic communicator, artificial larynx, wheelchair, sanitary aids, batteries, eye glasses, contacts including cleaning solutions, etc., are secured. For example: keep hearing aid, eye glasses, etc., in a container by bedside which is attached to night stand or bed post using string or velcro, oxygen tank attached to the wall, wheelchair locked and close to bed. This helps prevent them from falling, flying or rolling away during a quake.

If you use a laptop computer as a means of communication, consider purchasing a power converter. A power converter allows most laptops (12 volts or less) to run from a cigarette lighter on the dashboard of a vehicle.

Ready.gov includes comprehensive suggestions for emergency planning.

Interacting with First Responders

Make advance preparations to aid the work of first responders.

Deaf or Hearing Loss

Blind or Vision Loss

Speech Disability

If you have a speech disability, consider carrying a laminated personal communication board. This could be one or several small cards containing written messages.

Mobility Disability

Medications and Supplies

Keep medical alert tags or bracelets and written descriptions of your disability and support needs in case you are unable to describe the situation in an emergency.

To prepare for a fire emergency, view the U.S. Fire Administration's general guideOpens in new Window. for people with disabilities.