Emergency Preparedness and Disabilities
Emergencies can happen at any time, and often, there is little people can do to prevent one from taking place. However, if there's a plan in place to mitigate unforeseen events, the outcome can be positive.
The time is now to prepare for an emergency
Emergencies can happen at any time with little forewarning. If there's anything that people say they wish they would have done before one occurs, it's that they wish there were a plan in place to mitigate the unforeseen circumstances. Part of coping with and resolving a crisis, is to envision that even under the right set of circumstances, an event with negative consequences could happen. Conceiving possible scenarios that could happen at home, at work, in the presence of others, or out in public is the first step in planning. The parent of a child or adult with disabilities may ask, "Who will take care of my child if this happens?" Or, "What if I become incapacitated, require emergency care, have an accident, or unexpectedly die?" A person with disability living alone may ask, "What would happen if there were a house fire?" Or, "What if a person tries to harm me while I'm out within the community minding my own business?" And in both situations above, households should prepare for future care, long-term needs and emergency situations of all types. There's no need for a person with physical challenges to feel helpless because they might not be able to escape a physical space where an emergency has occurred; it's necessary to implement a step-by-step plan that can be easily carried out.
What constitutes an emergency situation?
An emergency is any situation that places a person in harm's way from unsafe conditions at home to a natural disaster. An emergency situation is any event that puts a person in a position to be harmed.
Some examples of emergencies include:
* Living or working in an unsafe structure
* A house fire, anything that has the potential to destroy a home or take a life
* A natural disaster, such a floods, inclement weather, tornados, or wildfires
* Any situation that leaves a person vulnerable to outdoor elements
* A foreclosure or eviction, risk of homelessness
* Any event that leaves a person in a situation where his or her health is compromised
* A situation that leaves a person vulnerable to the whims of unscrupulous individuals
One common factor, in most emergencies, is that they typically begin with little warning. Depending on the nature of the emergency, it can force a situation where people could be stuck in their homes for days at a time, be re-located to unfamiliar surroundings, or forced - either because a home is destroyed or because an evacuation is ordered - from their homes altogether. For people with special needs, emergencies can be especially difficult to cope with. First, there's a possibility that a person will not have the physical ability to remove themselves from whatever situation has occurred. Second, there's the potential a person can be harmed if a situation prevents them from receiving the medical treatment or support they usually receive. It's for this reason that a person needs to have a plan in place so that they can cope with dangerous and potentially harmfully situations when, or if, they occur.
What are the consequences of an emergency that can further imperil a person?
When an emergency happens, there's an obvious need to remove oneself from the situation. When that occurs, there are additional consequences for anyone that depends on medical services to maintain their well-being. If non-verbal or non-mobile there are additional contingencies to plan for. If there's a power outage, a person that uses rechargeable devices - a computer or a wheelchair, for instance - might not be able to reach out for help. If pharmacies and retail establishments are closed, it can be impossible to get medications. In short, an emergency can compromise a person's ability to act independently with the assistive devices they usually use. What provisions can be made to ensure a person can care for themselves during an emergency? The most important part in emerging from a crisis situation is to have a plan that has been communicated, tested and practiced. Any plan, whether it is escaping from a home, seeking safe haven, or alerting authorities needs to be compliant with a person's physical and verbal abilities. Having a plan is especially important if a person's community is hit by a natural disaster. In this event, it's likely that he or she will either have to evacuate a home or workplace, or be confined to it.
Here's what should be included in any emergency plan:
* A comprehensive list of relatives, friends, support services or others who might be able to help * A 14-day supply of food that does not require refrigeration and water that complies with a person's special diet, and supplies such as a manual can opener
* A supply of medicine and supplies that will outlast the duration of an emergency
* A charged car battery that can be used to power motorized wheelchairs
* Alternate cell phone chargers
* A battery-operated radio
* A folder or bag with all of a person's vital documents
* A stash of cash
* A list of bus terminals, train stations, and local law enforcement agencies
* A supply of food for assistance animals or pets, keep all supplies handy
* Registration with emergency services
It's important that an emergency plan be updated and further developed as a person's circumstances, or abilities, evolve or change. Also, persons should inform their friends, relatives and personal care assistants of the plan so they understand what their role is, and so they can provide input. Accessibility is also important when it comes to an emergency. If a person understands the nature of his or her home, how to exit and enter it unencumbered, and how to ward off potential harmful acquaintances, it's going to be easier to get through an emergency.
There's another scenario that is unlikely, but possible. If an emergency occurs at home or at work, it's possible that a "shelter in place" order will be issued by authorities. This means people are instructed to stay where they are at for the duration of the emergency. It's obviously impossible to keep two weeks' worth of food at a place of employment. In this circumstance, it's best to make sure that medications and contact information are always on a person, or in an accessible place, for the duration of the emergency.
How can other people help a person survive an emergency situation? Friends, neighbors and family members of a person with disabilities play a vital role in ensuring that the individual is safe in an emergency situation. An emergency can happen at any time - it's immensely comforting to a person with disabilities to know that they can tap into some support if they need it. As a helper, a person should understand their role in an emergency plan. That means they should be able to make contact with others, procure supplies, and help with anything that is needed while a person is locked in, or out, of their home. If a person is going to be included in the contact list, make sure that the other individual has all current emails, cell numbers, and home numbers for emergency contacts. Another good idea is to discuss the plan at length so that all involved understand their respective roles before, not during or after, an emergency. What government or non-profit resources are available in case of an emergency?
In most cases, government resources that helps people cope with emergencies that are targeted to people with disabilities are offered through state and local programs, although people with disabilities do benefit from programs offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, just like other citizens. Local hospitals, ambulance services, police authorities and firehouse administrators should be informed of a resident's conditions and limitations so proper documentation can be placed on record.
Non-profits are also a valuable source of information, support, and training. These local programs are often backed by state or federal funding and can help determine what should be included in the immediate or long-term contingency plan. A list of local agencies that offer assistance is typically available on the state's disability services website, or human services website. Call My Child at (800) 692-4453 for a list of community support and funding sources within your the community in which you reside.
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