Special Needs Preparedness

For the millions of Americans who have physical, medical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities, emergencies such as fires, floods, or acts of terrorism present a real challenge.  The same challenges also apply to the elderly and other special needs populations.  Protecting yourself and your family when disaster strikes requires planning ahead.

If you have a special need (hearing/speaking impaired, limited or no mobility, non-English speaking, etc.) you should discuss ideas with your family, friends, and/or your personal care attendant, or anyone else in your support network, to prepare an emergency plan.

If you have special needs:

  • Find out about special assistance that may be available in your community.  
  • Register with the Health Department, Office for the Aging, or the Office of Emergency Services so needed help can be provided during a disaster.  
  • Create a network of neighbors, relatives, friends, and coworkers to aid you in an emergency. Discuss your needs and make sure everyone knows how to operate necessary equipment.  
  • Discuss your needs with your employer.  
  • If you are mobility impaired and live or work in a high-rise building, have an escape chair.  
  • If you live in an apartment building, ask the management to mark accessible exits clearly and to make arrangements to help you leave the building.  
  • Keep specialized items ready, including extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, food for service animals, and any other items you might need.  
  • Be sure to make provisions for medications that require refrigeration.  
  • Keep a list of the type and model numbers of the medical devices you require.

Create a Personal Support Network

A personal support network (sometimes called a self-help team) can help you prepare for a disaster.  They can do this by helping you identify and get the resources you need to cope effectively.  Network members can also assist you after a disaster happens.

Organize a network that includes your home, school, workplace, volunteer site, and any other places where you spend a lot of time.  Members of your network can be roommates, relatives, neighbors, friends, and/or co-workers.  They should be people you trust and who can check to see if you need assistance.  They should know your capabilities and needs, and be able to provide help within minutes.

Do not depend on only one person.  Include a minimum of three people in your network for each location where you regularly spend a lot of time, since people work different shifts, take vacations, and are not always available.

Complete a Personal Assessment

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 environment after the disaster, your capabilities, and your limitations.

To complete a personal assessment, make a list of your personal needs and your resources for meeting them in a disaster environment.  Think about the following questions and note your answers in writing or record them on a tape cassette that you will share with your network.  These answers should describe both your current capabilities and the assistance you will need.  Base your planning on your lowest anticipated level of functioning.

Special Needs Personal Assessment

Be Prepared