Nobody wants to think about the possibility of a natural disaster. But if we’ve learned anything from this past summer’s climate emergencies—extreme heat, fire, floods, earthquakes—we know that natural disasters are a reality that can’t be ignored. If you or a family member lives with a disability, disaster preparedness is especially critical. Disabled individuals are two to four times more likely as non-disabled individuals to die or be injured during a climate emergency.
September is Disaster Preparedness Month – the perfect time to create a plan to keep you and your family safe in an emergency. Here are some steps you can take in the event of a natural disaster to protect your loved ones.
1. Stay informed
Don’t let an impending disaster catch you by surprise. Keep on top of weather-related emergencies by downloading public safety apps such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) or FEMA’s mobile app, or staying tuned to NOAA Weather Radio. Heed evacuation warnings and don’t wait until it’s too late to create an evacuation plan.
2. Create a disaster plan
Plan for a disaster before it happens and make sure that your plan is filed in a secure place where you can find it when needed. The plan should include a list of contacts that can be reached in case of an emergency. Consider giving a key to someone you trust. Think carefully about your daily needs: food, medication and supplies, and devise a system for getting these important items beforehand in the event of an upcoming emergency. Ensure that home fire alarm systems are working. Make sure you know how to access hospitals, urgent care centers and that emergency phone numbers are close by. If you drive, be certain that your car has a full tank of gas and is in working order and that it is outfitted with jumper cables, a spare tire, ice scraper and shovel. In the event that you must evacuate, have a plan for who will help you to leave your home and where you will go.
3. Compile an emergency kit
Your kit should include a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water for humans and pets; three-day supply of medications; three-day supply of clothing; batteries and flashlight; a first aid kit; toiletries; toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, diapers, baby formula and hand sanitizer; blankets; extra phone charger and battery; local maps, and copies of ID documents, health insurance cards, a list of all medications and doses, doctors’ phone numbers, and credit cards. If you have a medical alert bracelet or tag, make sure to wear it so you can get the help you need quickly. If your medicine needs refrigeration, have a cooler with chemical ice packs ready to go. Be sure to keep your kit in an easily accessed location and update supplies as needed.
4. Prepare for power outages
If you use medical devices or assistive technology devices that require electricity, investigate ways that you can keep your devices charged in the event of a power outage. According to Ready.gov, disabled individuals may be placed on a priority list with their energy provider. If it’s within your budget, consider investing in a generator.
5. Have back-up mobility aides
If you use a power wheelchair, keep a lightweight manual chair on hand in case you can’t take your power chair with you. Likewise, cane and walker users may want to have back-ups of these mobility aides as well.
6. Make your voice heard
One reason why people with disabilities are at greater risk for death or injury during disasters is because the people creating disaster plans may not be aware of their needs. Organizations such as the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Network are working to ensure that disabled people have a seat at the table when it comes to creating disaster preparedness practice and protocols.
For additional guidance, visit ready.gov/disability