Tips for People with Disabilities and Medical Concerns
This fact sheet is designed to provide a checklist
of activities for people with disabilities to improve their emergency
Preparation may seem like a lot of work. It is.
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
Establish a Personal
A personal support network is made up of
individuals who will check with you in an emergency to ensure you are safe and
to give assistance if needed. This network can consist of friends, roommates,
family members, relatives, personal attendants, co-workers or neighbors.
Some people rely on personal assistance services.
This type of assistance may not be available after a major disaster. Therefore
it is vital that your personal support network consist 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 seven days? A critical
element to consider in your emergency planning is the establishment of a
personal support network.
Even if you do not use a personal attendant, it is
important to consider having a personal support network to assist you in coping
with an emergency. Do not depend on any one person. 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, such as
work, home and school.
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
Seven Important Items to Discuss,
Give to and Practice with Your Personal Support Network
Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support
network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer
Exchange important keys.
Show where you keep emergency supplies.
Share copies of your relevant emergency documents,
evacuation plans and emergency health information card.
Agree and practice a communications system regarding how to
contact each other in an emergency. Do not count on telephones working.
You and your personal support network should always notify
each other when you are going out of town and when you will return.
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 or
An emergency health information card communicates to
rescuers what they need to know about you if they find you unconscious or
incoherent, or if they need to quickly help evacuate you.
An emergency health information card should contain
information about medications, equipment you use, allergies and sensitivities,
communication difficulties you may have, preferred treatment, treatment-medical
providers, and important contact people.
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.
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 disaster. 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 and for other family or household members.
Store emergency documents in your home emergency supply
kits. Copies of life saving information, such as specifications for adaptive
equipment or medical devices, 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.
Conduct an "Ability
Evaluate your capabilities, limitations and needs,
as well as your surroundings to determine what type of help you will need in an
Will you be able to independently shut off the necessary
utilities (gas, water, electricity)?
Can you operate a fire extinguisher?
Will you be able to carry your evacuation kit?
Have you moved or secured large objects that might block
your escape path?
Write instructions for the following (keep a copy with you
and share a copy with your personal support network):
How to turn off utilities; color-code or label these for
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.
How to operate and safely move your essential equipment.
Consider attaching simple to read and understand instructions to your equipment.
How to safely transport you if you need to be carried, and
include any areas of vulnerability.
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.
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.
Take charge and practice how to quickly explain to
people how to move your mobility aids or how to move you safely and rapidly. Be
prepared to give clear, specific and concise instructions and directions to
rescue personnel, for example, “take my oxygen tank,” “take my wheelchair,”
“take my gamma globulin from the freezer,” “take my insulin from the
refrigerator,” “take my communication device from under the bed.” Practice
giving these instructions with the least amount of words in the least amount of
time. For example: the traditional “fire fighter's carry” may be hazardous for
some people with some respiratory weakness. You need to be able to give brief
instructions regarding how to move you.
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
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
Emergency health information card.
Instructions on personal assistance needs and how best to
Copy of emergency documents.
Essential medications/copies of prescriptions (at least a
Flashlight on key ring.
Signaling device (whistle, beeper, bell, screecher).
Small battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
Supplies to Add to Regular Emergency Kits
Store supplies in areas you anticipate will be
easy to reach. 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
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.
It is best if you are able to maintain at least a 7 - 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
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 and 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
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
Equipment and Assistive
Keep important equipment and assistive devices in a
consistent, convenient and secured place, so you can quickly and easily locate
them after the disaster. Make sure 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 disaster.
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.
Information adapted from Independent Living Resource Center
San Francisco and the American Red Cross.