AUSTIN, Texas -- For the millions of Americans who have physical, medical, or other disabilities, emergencies such as hurricanes, floods and tornadoes present a real challenge. The same challenge also applies to the elderly and other special needs populations.
"Individuals with special needs are in the best position to plan for their own safety when disaster strikes, because they know their own personal needs and limitations," said Sandy Coachman, director of the Austin Transitional Recovery Office operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "However, their unique needs may require more detailed planning and involve neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and personal care attendants."
While preparing their own plan, family members with relatives in nursing facilities also may want to contact the facility's administrator to see what its emergency plans are and to make sure the facility has the family's communication plan and contact numbers in case of an evacuation, according to Coachman.
For those who have special needs and live alone, FEMA suggests the following four steps to prepare for hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30:
Find out about special assistance that may be available in your community through your local emergency management coordinator or local chapter of the American Red Cross.
Make a plan
Decide what you will be able to do for yourself and what assistance you may need before, during and after a disaster. This will be based on the disaster type you might encounter and your capabilities. Consider your needs for daily living, getting around after a disaster or evacuating to a safer area.
Organize a network of assistance that includes care attendants, neighbors, friends, relatives and co-workers at home, school, workplace, volunteer site and any other places where you spend a lot of time. The members of your network should know your capabilities and needs and be able to provide help within minutes. It may be important to depend on more than one person at each location where you regularly spend time since people work different shifts, take vacations and are not always available.
Assemble a kit
A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items you would probably need to stay safe and comfortable during and after a disaster. They should be stored in a portable container as close to an exit door as possible. Special needs items should be considered as well, such as extra batteries for hearing aids and wheelchairs; food and water for companion animals; essential medicines, a list of current prescriptions and medications, and your medical history; and type and model numbers of medical devices you need.
Service animals may become confused, panicked, frightened or disoriented immediately before, during and after a disaster. Keep them confined or securely leashed or harnessed. A leash (or harness) in your kit is an important item for managing a nervous or upset animal.
Maintain your plan and kit
Discuss the plan with your care attendant and the people in your network. Review the plan every six months and periodically quiz your assistants about what to do. Ensure that they know how to operate any medical equipment you need. Rotate food and water supplies.
Keep appropriate licenses for your service animal updated and keep them with you in the event you choose to use an emergency public shelter.
- Order FEMA's free pamphlet, Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs (FEMA 476), toll-free at 1-800-480-2520. The booklet is also available online at ww...