Disaster preparedness is a challenge for anybody. It is never easy to plan for unexpected events, and make sure you will have everything you need to stay safe and healthy in the event of an emergency. However, living with a disability often means you may have extra considerations to think about when preparing for an emergency. With that in mind, we wanted to share with you some tips to help you be prepared should disaster strike, and help ensure that you are able to live a life without limits– no matter the situation!
Create a support network. Being prepared for a disaster is not an activity that can be done solo. One of the best ways to be ready, for whatever comes your way, is to create a support network of people who know your needs, and know how to help. To ensure that your support network is as effective as possible, make sure that it includes people from various aspects of your life. That could be: friends, family, caregivers, peers, coworkers, or even professionals who know how to help you.
You also need to keep your support network in the loop. They should know everything they need to know in order to support you, just in case you are not able to communicate with them later. This could include: evacuation plans for your home, how to contact relatives or other important individuals in case of an emergency, and the locations of medication or other medical supplies you may need. In addition to having a local support network, it is also a good idea to include somebody on your team who is located elsewhere. This way they may still be able to make calls for you or contact important people, even if you do not have access to the internet or a phone line on a local level!
Discuss your needs with local authorities responsible for disaster preparedness and response ahead of time. Having a disability may mean that you require extra assistance in case of a fire or other disaster. It’s impossible to know when disaster will strike, however you can stay prepared by talking to the emergency services providers in your area in advance, and making sure they know what you will need. If you live in an apartment, or other rented property, contact your landlord, so they note in your file that you will need extra assistance in case of a fire. Some fire departments have signs or stickers you can place in your window to alert emergency response teams that you need assistance with evacuation. Contact your local fire department to find out what their procedures are, and be prepared!
Think about ways to access backup power, if necessary. Power outages happen after many different types of disasters and, while they are challenging for everybody, they can become even more complicated when you have a disability. If you use an electric wheelchair, or any other assistive device that requires charging or regular access to electricity, make a plan for easily accessible sources of backup power as part of your emergency planning. If it is feasible for you, you may want to consider purchasing a generator so that you always have your own source of power. If this is not an option, you may want to contact schools, fire departments, and other locations that act as emergency shelters in your area to determine which of them has backup power sources, and to come up with a plan that will allow you to access those resources in case of an emergency.
Identify designated evacuation routes and emergency alert systems that are accessible for you. Accessibility needs to be a top consideration for everybody involved in setting up disaster preparedness systems. If you live in an apartment building, make sure you talk to your landlord about having accessible alert systems installed and evacuation routes planned. What qualifies as accessible will greatly depend on your specific needs, so be an active part of the planning process. Work with other individuals in your community to ensure that accessible entrances and exits are kept clear at all times so that you do not end up stranded before, during, or after a disaster.
Create a disaster preparedness kit. One way to ensure that you will have essential items in case of an emergency is to create a disaster preparedness kit. Include a few days worth of any essential items such as: prescription medications(or any nonprescription medication) you need to take on a regular basis, nonperishable food that meets any dietary restrictions or requirements you may have, water, any tools or other items you may need in order to ensure that essential pieces of medical or mobility equipment continue to function throughout any disaster, and a list of important phone numbers in case you no longer have access to your cell phone. You will want to store these items in a portable container, and keep the kit in an easily accessible place. You may want to make multiple kits to keep in a range of places you may be during a disaster, including your home, your car, work, or school. Always be sure to consider how your disability may factor into the types of items you may need when creating your disaster preparedness kit, or talk with your school or workplace about the kit they have in place and what you need included.
Gather as many necessities as possible before any disaster warnings are issued. It is a stereotype that people buy all the milk and bread available in their local grocery store when snow is in the forecast. Now, I’m not suggesting you stockpile milk or bread, but one of the best ways to ensure you have everything you need in the event of a disaster is to prepare in advance. Keep an eye out for items you may need in your disaster preparedness kit whenever you go to the store. This is particularly important if you have any allergies that may prevent you from utilizing the supplies provided by relief workers after a disaster. If you are allergic to certain types of food, or a material found in many medical supplies, such as latex, it is important for you to make sure that you always have a supply of items that are safe and accessible for you to use– even if there are no disasters in the forecast.
Develop a documented plan for any caregiving or medical support you may need. In addition to creating a general support network, in order to ensure that you are supported and that your needs are met during a disaster, it is important to create a specific plan that details how you will get access to any daily living support you may need during (or after) a disaster. If you use PCAs, nurses, or other caregiving supports on a day-to-day basis, it is important to have a specific plan to ensure you will still get the services you need. Individuals responsible for assisting you with your daily care needs should definitely be part of your support network, but they should also have a clear outline of any steps they will need to take to ensure you have the assistance you need in the event of a disaster that displaces either of you.
Hopefully, you will never need to put the suggestions above into practice, but be sure to keep these tips in mind when preparing for unexpected events. And remember, disaster preparedness doesn’t end after a storm, or other catastrophic event. The effects of experiencing a disaster can long outlast the event itself, so after disaster strikes reach out for the support you need and be sure that any resources offered to you are accessible and designed to help you live a life without limits.
We would like to thank our 2016 summer interns Nikita Aneja, Katie Tung, Chaoran Chen, and Neeti Mehta for their help in researching and compiling this piece!
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