September 22, 2011
National Preparedness Month: People with disabilities and other access and functional needs
All individuals, including people with disabilities, should take the time before a disaster to plan for survival at home, in a shelter or elsewhere in the event of an actual emergency. In addition to Ready.gov’s recommended items to include in a basic emergency supply kit, people with disabilities and other access and functional needs may wish to consider the following in their preparations.
Now is the time to plan ahead for what you may need to stay safe, healthy, informed, mobile and independent during a disaster. Remember that a disaster may require sheltering-in-place at home or evacuating to an emergency shelter or other form of temporary housing.
Plan to maintain your independence before an emergency strikes. As you prepare, consider all the strategies, services, devices, tools and techniques you use to live with a disability on a daily basis. Keep in mind that you may need medications, durable medical equipment, consumable medical supplies, your service animal, assistive technology, communications tools, disability service providers, accessible housing, transportation and health-related items.
Create a support network to help you plan for an emergency. Consider family, neighbors, friends, people who provide services to you, and faith-based and community groups. Tell these people where you keep your emergency supplies. Give at least one member of your support network a key to your house or apartment. Contact your city or county government's emergency information management office and work with them to use their emergency planning resources.
If you receive dialysis or other life sustaining medical treatment, identify the location and availability of more than one facility and work with your provider to develop your personal emergency plan. Show others how to operate your wheelchair or other assistive devices. Keep contact information for local independent living centers and other disability services organizations in a safe and easy-to-access place. If you provide any organizations or service providers with information about your functional needs and what you may require in an emergency, keep that data up to date.
If you use in-home support services, Meals-on-Wheels, Life Alert or other support services, work with them to personalize emergency preparedness plans to meet your needs so you can keep in touch with them during and after an emergency. That contact may be your lifeline to other services in a disaster. Work with local transportation and disability services to plan ahead for accessible transportation if you may need that for evacuation or other reasons during a disaster. Develop back-up plans for personal assistance services, hospice or other forms of in-home assistance.
Keep in mind that during an emergency, you may need to explain to first responders and emergency officials that you need to evacuate and shelter with your family, service animal, caregiver, or personal assistance provider so they can provide the support you need to maintain your health, safety and independence.
Depending on your needs, items for your Go Kit may include:
- Extra eyeglasses, hearing aids if you have them or have coverage for them
- Battery chargers and extra batteries for hearing aids, motorized wheelchairs, other battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices
- Copies of medical prescriptions, doctors orders and the style and serial numbers of the support devices you use
- Medical alert tags, bracelets or written descriptions of your disability and support needs, in case you are unable to describe the situation in an emergency
- Supplies for your service animal medical insurance cards, Medicare/Medicaid cards, physician contact information, list of your allergies and health history
- A list of the local nonprofit or community-based organizations that know you or assist people with access and functional needs similar to yours.
- A list of personal contacts, family and friends who you may need to contact in an emergency
- A laminated personal communication board, if you might need assistance with being understood
- If possible, extra medicine, oxygen, insulin, catheters or other medical supplies you use regularly
- If you use a motorized wheelchair, have a light weight manual chair available for emergencies. Know the size and weight of your wheelchair, in addition to whether it is collapsible in case it has to be transported.
- Even if you do not use a computer yourself, consider putting important information onto a portable thumb drive for easy transport in an evacuation.
Finances. If you receive federal disability benefits, register your bank account information in advance with the U.S. Department of the Treasury online at www.GoDirect.org so you can continue to access your money during an emergency.
Arrange electronic payments for your federal benefits. Keep in mind a disaster can disrupt mail service for days or even weeks. For those who depend on the mail for their Social Security benefits, a difficult situation can become worse if you are evacuated or lose your mail service – as 85,000 check recipients learned after Hurricane Katrina. Switching to electronic payments is one simple, significant way people can protect themselves financially before disaster strikes. It also eliminates the risk of stolen checks.
The Direct Express® prepaid debit card is designed as a safe and easy alternative to paper checks for people who don’t have a bank account. Sign up is easy, call toll-free at 877-212-9991, 866-569-0447 TTY, or sign up online at www.USDirectExpress.com. Signing up for direct deposit or the Direct Express card is a simple but important step that can help protect your family’s access to funds in case the unthinkable were to happen. If you or those close to you are still receiving Social Security or other federal benefits by check, please consider switching to one of these safer, easier options today.
Keep in mind a disaster can disrupt mail service for days or even weeks. Consider direct deposit by calling the Go Direct toll-free helpline at 800-333-1795 -- trying to get TTY -- or sign up at www.GoDirect.gov. Sponsored by U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks, this option will ensure you get your social security or SSI payment on time each month.
Get active in your community to support emergency preparedness. Attend or volunteer with local emergency response groups, like FEMA CERT teams and Citizen Corps groups. Assist local emergency officials in learning how to integrate access and functional needs into preparedness and response activities and trainings.
Sign up for FEMA RSS Feeds or emergency emails and text messages from your local government alert system to get important information on your cell phone or pager, in case you are not able to easily hear or access emergency notifications when they occur.
Work with local shelter planners and emergency managers to plan ahead for accessible general population sheltering in a disaster. Medical shelters are for people with acute health care needs. Most people are best served in the general population shelters along with family, friends, and neighbors so it is important to preplan now to meet all access and functional needs requirements in a general shelter.
For information and tools related to emergency preparedness for people with disabilities see the FEMA Office of Disability Integration and Coordination Web page.