Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Emergency situations are scary and stressful, especially for those who are unprepared. Emergency plans and preparation are vital to maintaining your independence and safety during a disaster. Most people plan ahead by storing extra food and water, batteries, flashlights, radios, and other items, (you can see more about making an emergency plan here.) but preparing for an emergency is more challenging for adults with disabilities, elderly, and families with young children.
When a natural disaster or state of emergency shuts down transit systems or calls for evacuations there can be little time to prepare. What happens when members of your family have mobility issues or require special medications? What happens when you have an infant who needs diapers and formula? How will you care for those with special needs when access to supplies are cut off? This article will help you prepare for emergencies when your household has unique needs.
Have a Plan
A disaster emergency plan is a great tool to have for any family. And for those who have family members with special health or mobility needs, it is something that simply cannot be overlooked. The very old, very young, and very sick are the most vulnerable members of our population. When things go sideways and communities are cut-off from care and supplies, the burden of survival falls on the caretakers.
A family emergency plan is both a formal, written plan for what each member of the family should do in an emergency situation and a collection of resources to sustain family members until assistance is available. Although organizations like the American Red Cross and FEMA provide aid relief during and after emergency situations, the arrival of that aid can be delayed by days or even weeks. In the United States, we have fabulous emergency personnel but the reality is that not all jurisdictions have the proper resources to provide adequate service to elderly or handicapped individuals during a natural disaster. Having a reserve of resources available and plan to take care of your family until help arrives could be life-saving for the most vulnerable members of the family.
Once you identify your risks and the special preparations you need to make, you can begin to put together a written emergency plan. Every detail of the family emergency plan should be put in writing with copies provided to each person. The details should be discussed verbally, tested, and practiced. For most people, normal daily routines often take them outside of the home and to different locations. We do not always get notice ahead of an emergency, sometimes they strike without warning. Having a plan in place that everyone knows and has copies of is the best way of making sure that your family will be reunited quickly in the event of an emergency.
Compiling Your Emergency Plan
Notify and register with local emergency management officials - Local police and rescue agencies often keep records of handicap, special needs, and disabled residents in order to provide assistance in the event of an emergency. (This is a great resource but redundancies should be in place through your personal network.)
Mobility Needs for Elderly or Disabled - In the event of an emergency, elderly and disabled family members with limited mobility will have specific needs that require planning and preparation. In fact, if you can create a support network of multiple people that can assist these individuals, it will be easier to get help when the need arises. Local police and fire agencies often keep a record of area residents with physical and mental disabilities to ensure that they receive help during a disaster.
Planning for Medical Equipment - If someone in your family uses medical equipment that they cannot reasonably live without, the care, operation, and replacement of this equipment should be included in your Emergency Plan. Find alternative power sources for medical equipment in case a prolonged power outage occurs. Write down models and serial numbers of all devices in case they need to be replaced. Document contact information for all hospitals, clinics and medical equipment suppliers in the area. This includes making arrangements for service animals, if you do not have a plan or food for them you may be forced to leave them behind.
Plan ahead for Treatment Centers and Transportation - Make a list of all of the services that might be able to provide transportation including public transit, para transport, and private transport services. There is no guarantee that all transportation services will be operational in the event of an emergency. Your emergency plan should make the assumption that traditional transportation services will not be available.
Document Important Information - In addition to having a plan in place for what to do, the Emergency Plan should also include documentation of important information like the names and numbers of schools and insurance policies. The key here is to have important information available when and where it is needed. A digital copy in the cloud and on a flash drive is good, but will not be useful if there is no power. Hard copies of important names and numbers should be kept (securely) in several different places, at home, at work, and in the car.
Allergies and Special Dietary Needs - What if some members of your family suffer from severe food allergies? Does the food in your meal kit meet their dietary needs? When help becomes available, how easy will it be for these individuals to find safe food? As someone who lives with a food allergy or special dietary restriction, that person already knows how difficult it can be to avoid allergens in a structured world. In the chaos of post-emergency survival, food allergies and dietary restrictions are not always considered.
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In addition to the food that meets your specific needs, Include epi-pens and allergy medications in your survival kits. FEMA recommends that most individuals keep a 72 hour supply in their emergency kit. However, if you have severe food allergies or special dietary restrictions you may want to double that.
Special Medications - Insulin for diabetics, anti-rejection medications for post-transplants, and psychiatric medications are just a few of the types of pharmaceuticals that cannot be skipped in the event of an emergency. If going off of a medication, even temporarily, will have life-altering consequences then precautions should be taken to make sure the medicine is available.
Keep an extra refill in an airtight container inside your go bag in case of flooding. Keep a list of pharmacies where additional medication can be obtained in the event of an emergency. And, if you are expecting a potential emergency situation like an impending hurricane, try to collect your refills early in case access to pharmacies is cut-off.
Infants and Small Children - Due to their smaller body size, infants and smaller children are more vulnerable during emergency situations. Extra clothes and blankets should be available to help them maintain appropriate body temperature. For babies, keep your diaper bag stocked with baby formula (even if you breastfeed) and diapers in their current size to be your infant's go-bag in case of emergency. For small children, consider including activities to help with boredom like coloring books and crayons. A pair of noise-canceling headphones can help little kids remain more in scary situations. And, including straws or bottles with nipples can make it easier for little ones to drink water.
Create and Maintain an Emergency Kit
A “go bag” for evacuation that includes food, water, medications, blankets, flashlight, fire starters, and first aid supplies is a crucial item to have on hand and ready in the event of an emergency. You should have a minimum of 3 days of food and water for each individual, but you also need to remember food and water for service dogs or pets that may be evacuated with you. Communication is very important, a radio will keep you updated with any relevant information. There are many devices available that serve as radio, flashlight, charger combinations.
Pre-packed emergency backpack kits are available to make this part of preparation simple and affordable. A backpack is an easy item to carry with you if you need to leave your home. You can see a detailed list of survival items to keep in your emergency kit here and here.
Extra Preparation Can Make All the Difference
An emergency preparedness plan is a great tool for any family, but when a family has vulnerable members like the elderly, disabled or infants it can be more challenging to keep everyone safe. It may seem like a lot of work but most of the information and items needed you probably already know. Taking the time to compile the plan will give you peace of mind knowing you can provide the care your loved ones need in a disaster.
This video was created by The Provident Prepper: