Hurricane Harvey slammed into southeastern Texas on Friday, leaving two to four feet of rain and cities like Houston unrecognizable in its wake. Images of people with disabilities being haphazardly evacuated from the aftermath have gone viral, and are an important reminder that natural or manmade disasters can happen at a moment’s notice.
According to the American Red Cross, mobility, hearing, learning, or seeing disabilities can create specific needs that individuals need to address to be able to respond to an emergency. A person with a disability should be ready for any urgent situation, which means assembling a survival kit, making an emergency plan, and being informed.
Here are recommended steps people with disabilities, and their caregivers, may stake about managing communications, equipment, service animals, pets and home hazards.
Create a personal support network
A personal support network (sometimes called a self-help team) can help you prepare for a disaster. They can do this by helping you identify and get the resources you need to cope effectively. Network members can also assist you after a disaster happens. Learn how to create and implement your personal support network.
Complete a personal assessment
Think about and share you answers to the following questions with your support networks in preparation for a natural or manmade disaster. Answers should describe both your current capabilities and the assistance you may need before, during and after a disaster. Base your plan on your lowest anticipated level of functioning.
• Personal Care: Do you regularly need assistance with personal care, such as bathing and grooming? Do you use adaptive equipment to help you get dressed?
• Water Service: What will you do if water service is cut off for several days or if you are unable to heat water?
• Personal Care Equipment: Do you use a shower chair, tub-transfer bench or other similar equipment?
• Adaptive Feeding Devices: Do you use special utensils that help you prepare or eat food independently?
• Electricity-Dependent Equipment: How will you continue to use equipment that runs on electricity, such as dialysis, electrical lifts, etc.? Do you have a safe back-up power supply and how long will it last?
• Disaster Debris: How will you cope with the debris in your home or along your planned exit route following the disaster?
• Transportation: Do you need a specially equipped vehicle or accessible transportation?
• Errands: Do you need help to get groceries, medications and medical supplies? What if your caregiver cannot reach you because roads are blocked or the disaster has affected him or her as well?
• Building Evacuation: Do you need help to leave your home or office? Can you reach and activate an alarm? Will you be able to evacuate independently without relying on auditory cues that may be absent if the electricity is off or alarms are sounding?
• Building Exits: Are there other exits (stairs, windows or ramps) if the elevator is not working or cannot be used? Can you read emergency signs in print or Braille? Do emergency alarms have audible and visible features (marking escape routes and exits) that will work even if electrical service is disrupted?
• Getting Help: How will you call for the help you will need to leave the building? Do you know the locations of text telephones and phones that have amplification? Will your hearing aids work if they get wet from emergency sprinklers? How will you communicate with emergency personnel if you don’t have an interpreter, your hearing aids aren’t working, or if you don’t have a word board or other augmentative communication device?
• Mobility Aids/Ramp Access: What will you do if you cannot find your mobility aids? What will you do if your ramps are shaken loose or become separated from the building?
• Service Animals/Pets: Will you be able to care for your animal during and after a disaster? Do you have another caregiver for your animal if you are unable to meet its needs? Do you have the appropriate licenses for your service animal so you will be permitted to keep it with you should you choose to use an emergency public shelter?
• Community Disaster Plans: Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross Chapter to learn about community response plans, evacuation plans and designated emergency shelters. Ask about the emergency plans and procedures that exist in places you and your family spend time (such as work, schools, senior care centers, and child care centers). If you do not own a vehicle or drive, find out in advance what your community’s plans are for evacuating those without private transportation.
• Assistance Programs: Ask about assistance programs. Many communities ask people with a disability to register with the local fire or police department or emergency management office, so needed help can be provided quickly in an emergency. Let your personal care attendant know you have registered, and with whom. If you are electric-dependent, be sure to register with your local utility company.
Don’t Forget to Make a Back-Up Plan
Emergencies and disasters can unfold in unpredictable ways, and even carefully made plans may need to adapt to changing circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to arrange a back-up solution for the most critical parts of your emergency plan.
• Know how to connect and start a back-up power supply for your essential medical equipment.
• Do you have a medical alert system that allow you to call for help if you are immobilized in an emergency? Most alert systems require a working phone line, so have a back-up plan, such as a cell phone, if the regular landlines are disrupted.
• If you use an electric wheelchair or scooter, have a manual wheelchair for back-up.
• Teach those who may need to assist you in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Also, label equipment and attach laminated instructions for equipment use.
• Store back-up equipment (mobility, medical, etc.) at your neighbor’s home, school, or your workplace.
• Arrange for more than one person from your personal support network to check on you in an emergency, so there is at least one back-up if the primary person you rely on cannot.
• If you are a person who is vision impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, plan ahead for someone to convey essential emergency information to you if you are unable to use the TV or radio.
• If you use a personal care attendant obtained from an agency, check to see if the agency has special provisions for emergencies (e.g., providing services at another location should an evacuation be ordered).
• Have a cell phone with an extra battery. If you are unable to get out of a building, you can let someone know where you are and guide them to you. Keep the numbers you may need to call with you if the 9-1-1 emergency number is overloaded.
If You Are Instructed to Evacuate
Your first option and plan should always be to go to family or friends first; they can accommodate you, your service animal and pets, and help you be most comfortable in a stressful situation. Emergency public shelters can provide a safe place to stay and meals while you are there, but not all shelters provide personal health care or assistance with activities of daily living. If you require the care of a personal attendant and choose to go to a shelter, bring the attendant with you.
• Listen to the radio or television for the location of emergency shelters. Note those that are accessible to people with physical disabilities and those that have other disability friendly assistance features such as TTY lines.
• Wear appropriate clothing such as sturdy shoes.
• Take your disaster supplies kit.
• Confirm upon arrival at an emergency shelter that it can meet your care needs.
• Inform members of your support network and out-of-town contact of your location and status.
Click here to download the free American Red Cross brochure – Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs.