As we’ve discussed in previous installments of Dare to Prepare, every family needs to assemble a basic disaster preparedness kit and create a family emergency plan. If your family is like mine and has a member with special needs, then it is important that you consider some additional topics.
“Special needs” is an umbrella term that refers to a broad range of individuals, including those with sensory, motor, or mental impairments, the frail elderly, and individuals with chronic diseases. What unique topics need to be considered by families with special needs?
Disaster preparedness questions for families with special needs
- Do you have a two week supply of medications and/or medical supplies? A disaster can prevent you from contacting your doctor and interrupt the distribution of medications and supplies to local pharmacies. It is important to have what you need on hand so you can make it until the communication and transportation infrastructures are in working order. If your medication requires refrigeration, consider how to store it if the electricity goes out. (Click here for information on how to acquire extra prescription medications for your preparedness kit and tips for storing refrigerated medications during a disaster.)
- Do you have a backup plan for medical or mobility equipment that require electricity? If you use an electric wheelchair, a dialysis unit, or any number of other pieces of medical or mobility equipment that require electricity, then you need to consider what you’ll do if the power goes out. Do you have a generator for backup power? Do you have a manual alternative that can be used temporarily? If you have advanced warning for a disaster that could knock out the electricity for days or weeks, sometimes the best course of action is to evacuate.
- Do all members of the family understand your emergency plan? Family members with mental impairments and children (with or without special needs) may be unable to understand your family emergency plan. Make sure neighbors, school teachers, personal care attendants, and other individuals who have regular contact with these loved ones are aware of your family emergency plan so they can help your family member get to your meeting place.
- Do you have a vehicle and driver’s license to enable you to evacuate? If no one in your family has a driver’s license or no one owns a vehicle, then it is critical to get in contact with your local government to find out its plans for evacuating residents without private transportation.
- Will any members of the family need special assistance coping with a disaster? Disasters are stressful on everyone, but they can be especially devastating for individuals with certain special needs (e.g., a child with autism, a grandparent with Alzheimer’s). If someone in your family may need special assistance coping with a disaster, then you may want to consider what, if anything, can be done to help facilitate this coping. Would it be beneficial to have a “rehearsal” where you practice the things that might occur during a disaster? Are there security items (a blanket, a stuffed animal, a trinket, etc.) that need to be kept on hand because they might calm your family member? Make sure each family member knows something he or she can do to help this loved one cope if a disaster strikes.
- Do you have supplies to care for your service animal? If someone in your family utilizes a service animal, be sure to include food, water, and other supplies for the animal in your preparedness kit and go bag.
You may need to consider additional topics due to the complexities of your situation. To explore these and to get additional guidance on how to prepare for disasters, visit the following resources:
- Preparing for Disasters for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs by FEMA and the Red Cross
- Emergency Preparedness for Families of Children with Special Needs by the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH) Children with Special Health Care Needs Work Group
- List of state emergency preparedness websites by the Administration on Aging
What additional preparedness topics would you recommend families with special needs consider?