Disaster Preparedness for Special Needs
Babies, young children, the physically challenged and the elderly need special consideration when developing your disaster preparedness plan.
Preparedness planning for people with special needs should identify the following:
- Individuals who require special attention
- Visually impaired who need information in a media accessible to them
- Hearing impaired who need special help to receive messages
- People who use wheelchairs, or are otherwise mobility impaired, and who need special rescue techniques and transportation that is accessible for them
- Shelters which must be accessible
- Mentally impaired who need training and constant reinforcement to learn steps to save themselves
- Post-disaster needs which must be met over an extended period of time
Meeting these needs does not have to be costly. Some can be solved by education, others by modest investments, but they should be addressed in a structured manner.
Emergency Preparedness for Special Needs Children
Caution must be exercised when dealing with special needs children in emergency situations. They are at a higher risk for in disaster situations than adults for a number of reasons:
- Children with special needs may not always understand that a disaster is taking place and might not even know what to do to avoid danger.
- Children are more likely to suffer from dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea if exposed to biological or chemical agents.
- If a child is injured in a disaster, without medical attention right away, he or she can decline or even die quite quickly due to shock or blood loss. Their systems are small and cannot withstand as much as an adult can.
- A child cannot withstand cold as long as an adult can. A child with special needs may not even understand that he or she is cold.
- Children do not always understand how to know when a situation is dangerous. They may not be able to figure out how stay safe or to follow directions from others.
- Children with special needs may not be able to explain if they are hurt.
Evacuating the Physically Challenged
Different disability groups have different problems when evacuation is required.
Persons who are blind can walk to an evacuation point, either unaided or with the help of a guide.
Deaf people and many who use wheelchairs can drive. This accounts for a significant part of the disabled population.
But there are persons who have mobility impairments that make it impossible to operate a car.
Even if a person can drive, he or she may be on the upper floor of a high rise that is without power, and must be evacuated.
For a significant number of people, the problem of evacuation is often just leaving the house. The safest and most convenient way to evacuate persons who use wheelchairs or other assisted devices is in modified vans.
Social service agencies and some individuals own such vehicles. Emergency managers should make contact with area social service agencies to request that inventories of such paratransit be maintained. Private citizens can also be contacted and asked to join emergency evacuation pools.
Be Ready to Evacuate
Have a plan for getting out of your home or building (ask your family or friends for assistance, if necessary).
The best thing to do is plan two evacuation routes because some roads may be closed or blocked in a disaster.
- When you have to evacuate, you will need to take everything with you that you ordinarily use, plus extra supplies in case you run out. You never know how long you may be away from home. Think about medications, batteries, oxygen, and food for service animals.
- Make sure the people who know you are aware of your special needs so that if a situation arises, you will have extra support if an emergency arises. Think: friends, people from church, neighbors, co-workers, neighbors, relatives and other people you network with..
- If you are unable to exit your home without assistance in an emergency, make sure the local fire department is aware of your special needs and they can help you evacuate.
- If you require any kinds of medical treatments, such as dialysis or chemotherapy, make sure you know where alternative facilities are located in case you have to need to re-locate to another area
Two critical points should not be overlooked
1. When the danger has passed, additional care must be taken in returning people with special needs to their home environments. This re-entry may be difficult or uncertain.
2. In-place or at-home shelters present greater problems. There must be exceptional plans for rescue and recovery operations.
A person's physical impairments may very well be heightened as a result of massive damages in their household or even long the way to the shelter.
References and Additional Resources
Disaster Planning for Elderly and Disabled Populations