With shaking hands, Ms. Evans searched for her cell phone. Terrible thoughts were racing through her mind… Was her mother who lived in that apartment complex safe? Who could have done such a terrible thing? Would she be able to hear her phone ring? Not only was her mother elderly, but she also was hearing-impaired. The teacher thought back to Hurricane Katrina when helpless elderly residents were left abandoned by their caretakers and staff as they took cover from the torrential flooding. Would her mother’s caretaker leave her in her room—alone and helpless against the catastrophic bombings?
Just as the anxiety and fear was starting to settle in, her phone rang. It was her caretaker! They were sitting in a Red Cross shelter that was set up about 10 minutes from downtown, playing cards with a young volunteer. She struggled to find the words to describe how happy she was that her mother was safe—and playing Euchre on top of that! The caretaker put the volunteer on the phone, “Don’t worry, Ms. Evans. Your mother is in good hands here at the shelter. We got her a cup of coffee and she is putting all our card skills to shame!” She thanked the volunteer for her kindness and told the caretaker she would be over as soon as possible to pick up her mother.
Even though Ms. Evan’s mother was lucky to have been evacuated to a Red Cross shelter, some people may not be able to leave their homes or work places due to the disaster situation they are in. This is a perfect example of why everyone—even those who have a disability—need to be prepared for when a disaster strikes. A disaster can be defined in many ways; whether it is a natural disaster (including severe weather events, earthquakes, fires or disease epidemics) or a man-made disaster, (biological or chemical agent exposure, toxic spills or explosions) they can occur anywhere at any time. Taking steps to be ready when these disasters occur will go a long way in keeping you and your loved one safe and well.
The first step in becoming disaster-ready is to put together an emergency kit. People with disabilities should consider making two kits—one will contain everything need to sustain you if you are trapped in your home or office, and the second should be a lightweight, travel-sized kit that you can take with you in the event of an evacuation. Every kit should include the following “standard” items:
• Food, 3-day non-perishable supply with can opener if needed
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio, NOAA Weather Radio and extra batteries for both
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Week-long supply of any medications you are taking
• Back-up treatment facilities/services if you receive routine medical services (such as dialysis, physical therapy or diabetes testing)
• Extra pairs of eyeglasses, hearing aids/batteries and wheelchair batteries
• Back-up life-saving devices, such as portable oxygen devices
• Additional copies of insurance information, Medicare/Medicaid cards
• Service animal ID tags, medical records and pet supplies
• Copies of important documents: family and medical records, wills, deeds, social security card, etc.
Another crucial step in becoming prepared for disasters is to make a plan. The two most important steps in making a plan for people with disabilities is creating a personal support network and completing a personal assessment that includes a list of personal needs and your resources for meeting them in the event of a disaster. Establishing a personal support network helps you gather supplies for your disaster kits, as well as identifying people in your life that you can trust to be there for your—especially at a moment’s notice. You should find at least three people per place, such as at your home, office or school. Having more than one person allows flexibility among your network in case any of them are also affected by the same disaster. After you have created your “self-help team,” have them complete a personal assessment with you. Some questions you should ask yourself include:
• Do you regularly need assistance with personal care, such as bathing and grooming? Do you use adaptive equipment to help you get dressed?
• What will you do if your water service gets cut off or you are unable to heat water?
• Do you use a shower char, tub-transfer bench or other similar equipment?
• Do you use special utensils to help you prepare or eat your food?
• How will you continue to use your equipment that runs on electricity when power is lost?
• How will you cope with debris in your home or along your planned exit route?
• Do you need specially equipped transportation vehicles?
• Do you have someone that gets groceries, medications or medical supplies for you?
• Do you need help leaving your home or office? Could you reach/activate an alarm if needed? Would you be able to hear an auditory alarm?
• Are there other exits if the elevator is not working that are handicapped accessible? Can you read emergency signs in print or Braille?
• Will you be able to care for your service animal during and after a disaster?
• How will you summon for help?
The final crucial step in disaster preparedness is knowing how to be informed before, during and after a disaster occurs. Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter to gather information about creating a plan for disaster situations and how your community will respond to a disaster. Find out how local authorities will warn you of an impending disaster and how they will provide information during and after the disaster strikes. Learn about how to purchase a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) for those who are deaf or hearing-impaired, which can transmit a signal to external devices, strobe lights, sirens, vibrators, etc. that you use for communication. It is also good to ask about special assistance programs in your community that are available to people with disabilities, such as a local emergency registration. This program informs local police and fire departments of people with disabilities in their area, so that they can attend to them swiftly during a disaster.
As Ms. Evans grabs her belonging from her desk, she feels her phone buzzing. Although the phone has been ringing since news of the bombings hit, she ignores the calls—her most important priority now is her mother. Leaving her classroom, she passes teachers in the hallway nervously making phone calls and reassuring loved ones they are safe. Realizing she must have a full voicemail inbox by now, she calms her nerves and allows herself to listen to the messages. To her pleasant surprise, the messages are from her next-door neighbor, her sister and a friend from church—all are members of her mother’s personal support network. Even though the bombings could have impacted all of them in some way, they all were calling to check on her mother. It was moments like these that Ms. Evans was thankful to have a friend who worked at the Red Cross. If it was not for the persistent reminders from her friend to make a plan for her mother, who knows what would have happened today?
Do you know someone who has a disability that may prevent them from escaping a disaster situation? What role will you play in their preparedness? Will you be there to assist them during an evacuation?
Be Red Cross Ready: Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed.
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play a part in saving a life.
play a part in saving a life.