Put together the right plan to keep you and your family safe in case of an emergency.
September is National Preparedness Month, a good time to think about the unthinkable — disasters.
For people with disabilities, it’s especially important, says Mary Lockyer, disaster health services manager at the American Red Cross.
“Get a kit, have a plan and be informed,” she remarks.
Lockyer adds that after getting themselves ready for some of life’s larger curveballs, people with disabilities need to help local emergency planners prepare, too.
“I’m reaching out to the disability community to reach out to the emergency-planning community,” she says.
Help the Helpers
Counties and cities are central to national and state disaster-response planning and training. Lockyer comments there are many opportunities for people with disabilities to educate city and county emergency planners.
For example, she says that often ambulatory people portray people with disabilities in disaster-response training.
A disaster kit should be a bit different for each person or family, depending on individual needs.
“It was always difficult to find the person who needed the wheelchair to get involved in the exercises,” she laments.
Lockyer explains that when people with disabilities participate in disaster-preparation exercises, the emergency workers and they learn much about preparing for the real McCoy.
Chip Wilson, statewide disability coordinator at the Florida Division of Emergency Management, agrees.
“The benefits of using real people with real disabilities in a county-wide disaster drill is invaluable to first responders, triage personnel and those at the reception areas,” Wilson says. “A person who is blind and uses a service animal, or a person who is dependent on oxygen and uses a wheelchair, or a person who is deaf and cannot read lips is in a much better position to accurately describe his or her needs in order to be triaged, transported and treated at the site or at a reception area than someone who is only pretending to have a disability.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Disasters come in various shapes and sizes — hurricanes and tornados that can leave swaths of destruction through several states, firestorms that can char tens of thousands of acres in days, and earthquakes that can level cities.
But the disaster that hits the most people every year is house fires. The Red Cross responds to about 70,000 domestic disasters annually, and most are single-family home fires.
Lockyer says individuals and families should take time to practice pretend disasters and figure out what to have in their disaster kits to be ready.
The Right Stuff
No matter where a person lives, or the potential disasters he or she faces, some things should be in all kits — food for a couple of days, water and filtering bottles, and important papers, such as insurance policies, to name just a few.
But, geography, climate, season, and other factors can affect what’s in a good disaster kit. Someone preparing for blizzards wouldn’t keep mosquito netting in a kit, but nets are often important for hurricane planning. Blankets are important in blizzard and hurricane kits.
“Look at where they live, and what are the three greatest threats, and what would their response be,” Lockyer says. “Look at those threats, and how they would react.”
A Life Safety Factor
Lockyer and other emergency planners say that while Mother Nature and man have come up with a number of smaller and larger disasters they can dish out, much about planning for them remains the same.
Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army, says that in his 20 years of emergency planning and responding he’s repeatedly seen what a difference some planning and preparing, or the lack of it, can make.
“The more people prepare, the easier it is on the response side,” he offers.
Jellets was a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) site responder in 1994. He says the first storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, Tropical Storm Alberto, left a Georgia wheelchair user in a pinch for several weeks. Comparatively mild flooding caused floorboards in his home to warp and bow.
“It really did become a life safety factor,” Jellets remarks. “The fellow had trouble navigating his own home.”
The incident was exacerbated by the family’s lack of disaster planning. The fellow and his wife had no flood insurance, emergency supplies, or secondary locations to head to.
Jellets explains that FEMA was able to mobilize volunteers to assist the family to get the home back into habitable and navigable condition, but the failure to plan and prepare before the tropical storm complicated and extended many steps of the process.
Part of the Solution
He says in addition to putting together disaster kits that can be taken in a hurry, people should also make checklists of the things they’d need that aren’t likely to be in a kit — for example, battery chargers and identification cards.
Jellets has another bit of advice for people with spinal-cord disabilities.
“Assume your caregiver will not be available for one reason or another,” Jellets comments.
Those who need some assistance with eating should pack foods in their disaster kits that anyone can handle. Additionally, Jellets says caregivers should write simple instructions that would help anyone become a temporary caregiver in a pinch. Those instructions should be stored in waterproof containers.
Wilson, who has a spinal-cord disability and uses a wheelchair, says no matter the level of disability, everyone should make plans for when disasters strike.
“The major part of responsibility for emergency preparedness falls on individuals with disabilities,” he offers. “We must get rid of the mentality that ‘I will wait for someone else to do it for me.’ If any action is within our capability, it is our responsibility to take that action. If we don’t become part of the solution, we are a very large part of the problem.”
For general and disabilities-specific disaster planning tips, visit ready.gov.
Basic Disaster Kit
A disaster kit should be a bit different for each person or family depending on their individual needs and geographic location. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends the following be included in every kit:
- Water, one gallon per person per day for at least three days
– Food, at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food
– Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
– Flashlight and extra batteries
– First-aid kit
– Whistle to signal for help
– Dust mask to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
– Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
– Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
– Manual can opener for food
– Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger