According to the CDC, more than 57 million Americans are disabled, and unfortunately, it’s possible for anyone to acquire or develop a disability through aging, illness, or injury. People with special needs and disabilities face many barriers to completing everyday activities, and medical, cognitive, physical, and sensory disabilities can make emergencies like floods, fires, hurricanes, and other disasters very challenging.
Recently, we saw the tragic reality of why planning ahead for emergencies and disasters is so important when the Barclay Friends Senior Home went up in flames. Not only did the fire result in the displacement of many seniors, but it left 27 people injured and four of its senior residents presumed dead. If you have a loved one with special needs or disabilities, here’s a closer look at how you can prepare for emergencies and disasters, determining how to meet unique challenges before you’re faced with an emergency.
Develop a Personal Support Network
Creating a personal support network for an individual with special needs or disabilities is an essential part of preparing for disaster. Members of this self-help team can help with emergency preparation and can offer assistance during and after disasters. People who are a part of this network can include family members, friends, neighbors, medical professionals, and even professional caregivers. A disabled individual should have people available at each location where they regularly spend time to ensure they have help no matter where they are when an emergency occurs.
Do a Personal Assessment of Capabilities and Assistance That May Be Needed
Do you really know what your loved one with disabilities will need before, during, and after an emergency or disaster occurs? What limitations will result in special challenges? In order to figure this out, take time to do a personal assessment of your loved one to determine what capabilities they have and the type of assistance that may be needed. Questions that need to be answered include:
- Does your loved one need assistance with personal care? Is any adaptive equipment needed to complete personal care tasks?
- Can your loved one continue to use equipment that depends on electricity to run, such as electric lifts, dialysis machines, etc.? Is a back-up power supply available? If so, how long will that supply last?
- Does your loved one require accessible transportation?
- Will it be possible to quickly and safely exit the home? What happens if mobility aids cannot be found? Are exits from the home large enough to accommodate mobility devices like powered chairs or wheelchairs.
- If your loved one has a service animal, how will you care for that animal during and after an emergency.
Learn More About Local Hazards and Local Assistance
Before making your emergency plan, you need to learn more by contacting a local Red Cross chapter or talking to your local emergency management office. Find out about specific disasters that threaten your area, such as earthquakes, tornados, hurricane, and floods. Find out more about the response plans in your community, including evacuation routes and areas designated as emergency shelters that can accommodate individuals with disabilities. Ask about community warning systems and how you can get information during and after emergencies. Many communities have assistance programs for individuals with disabilities, but you may need to register your loved one with the local emergency management office or with the local police or fire department to ensure you have help if an emergency occurs.
Making an Emergency Plan
Sit down with your disabled loved one, other household members, and caregivers to make an emergency plan, laying out plans for responding for different types of emergencies that may happen in your area.
1. Identify the Best Escape Routes and Ensure Exits are Accessible
When some emergencies occur, such as a fire, everyone may need to get out of the home immediately. Identify the best escape routes from every room in the home, keeping your loved one’s disabilities in mind. Make sure that exits are accessible for loved ones for disabilities. You may need to have home modifications done to make sure exits from your home are suitable for your loved one. For example, wheel-chair bound loved ones may need wider hallways, wider doorways, and a ramp wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair when existing the home.
2. Practice Escape Routes to Identify Any Problems
Take time to practice the escape routes from the home a couple times a year. This way you identify any problems with exiting the home before an emergency occurs. Sometimes you may need change the way home furniture layouts to make more room for existing the home or part of your emergency plan may need updated to accommodate the changing needs of your loved one with disabilities. Include professional caregivers in these practice drills as well so you can find any problems in your plan.
3. Prepare for Specific Emergencies and Disasters
Make sure you prepare for specific emergencies and disasters that you may encounter in your area. For example, if you have a tornado warning, it’s usually recommended to get to the basement if you have one. However, some individuals with disabilities may not be able to get to the basement. Figure out in advance where the safest place in the home will be and how your loved one can get there quickly.
4. Have a Checklist of Unique Needs That Must Be Addressed Before a Disaster
Loved ones with special needs or disabilities may have very unique needs that require some extra planning. Some actions you may need to take before a disaster include:
- Know what to do to start back-up power supplies to run essential medical equipment.
- Have a manual wheelchair for backup if your loved one uses an electric scooter or wheelchair.
- Make sure back-up equipment is safely stored where you can get to it.
- Find out if professional caregivers have special provisions for disasters or emergencies.
- Have cell phones and extra batteries available.
- Ensure multiple people know how to operate any necessary equipment for your loved one.
Your Evacuation Plan
In some cases, you may need to completely evacuate your home, and this can come with special challenges for individuals with disabilities. It’s always a great idea to go to a friend or family member’s home first, since it may offer the most comfortable option when dealing with a stressful situation. Emergency public shelters are an option, but remember that not all shelters are equipped to handle individuals with special needs and disabilities. Be sure to identify shelters that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Take along any special equipment that’s needed if possible. When you arrive at the shelter, confirm that it can meet the care needs of your loved one. Take time to notify individuals in your support network that you and your loved ones are safe, giving them your status and location.
Think Ahead of Appropriate Home Modifications
Planning ahead is essential to ensuring your loved one with disabilities is protected when an emergency occurs. Work together to determine your loved one’s abilities and needs during and after a disaster or emergency. Have a good plan in place, and don’t wait to take care of modifications to your home that affect accessibility. Contact us today by calling (610) 518-2221 or using our online contact form. to find out how we can help you with home modifications that provide safe exits from your home for a loved one who has special needs or disabilities.