Emergency Preparedness for Citizens Living with Disabilities

Written by Jennifer Elliott

A natural disaster is a terrifying event for anyone to experience. For elderly citizens, or those living with a disability, a natural disaster or local emergency can be that much more frightening and challenging to manage. For the visually impaired, navigating a flood environment can pose severe hazards. For those with an auditory impairment, tornado warning sirens may be ineffective. For those with mobility issues, safely evacuating a home after an earthquake may be impossible.

Education and awareness remain the first essential steps to staying safe during an emergency. To help ensure all your citizens, especially those 56 million Americans living with a disability, have a proactive plan in place to remain safe and informed in the event of an emergency or local disaster, share the following emergency preparedness tips and best practices.

For All Disabled Citizens:

  • Put a proactive plan in place with the support of family or caregivers for how to safely obtain assistance evacuating your home in the event of an emergency.
  • Familiarize yourself with the types of natural disasters that are most common in your region. For example, your community may be at an above average risk for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, or mudslides. Knowing the possible dangers will help you put an emergency plan in place with the help of your caregiver.
  • Keep emergency supplies in stock, such as first aid materials, canned food, bottles of water, blankets, and batteries.
  • Keep at least a seven-day supply of all necessary medications in stock.
  • Subscribe to voicemail or text message alerts from your municipal emergency notification system.
  • Familiarize yourself with local emergency resources and their contact information.
  • Ensure you have an operable carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm functioning in your home.
  • Keep at least enough food and water in your home to last three to five days.

For the Visually Impaired

According to theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.4 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either blind or visually impaired. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, visually disabled citizens should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • If you own a service animal, ensure keeping your animal’s safety is part of your emergency preparedness plan.
  • If you utilize a cane, keep a spare at home, work, school, and with your emergency supplies.

For the Hearing Impaired

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, hearing disabled citizens should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • Install a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm that utilizes flashing lights to notify you in the event of a fire or gas leak.
  • If you use a hearing aid, store extra batteries in your emergency safety kit. When not in use, store your hearing aid in an easily accessible location.
  • If applicable, keep a note in your emergency safety kit that says, “I speak American Sign Language (ASL) and need an ASL interpreter” to help you communicate with emergency personnel.

For the Mobility Impaired

According to the CDC, approximately 13 percent of Americans have a mobility disability, or experience serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, citizens with a mobility impairment should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • If you use a wheelchair and an earthquake strikes, lock the wheels, and cover your head.
  • Keep your emergency supply kit in a backpack attached to your walker, wheelchair, or scooter.
  • Keep gloves in your emergency kit to protect your hands incase you have to travel over dangerous debris.
  • Ensure pieces of furniture in your home do not pose barriers if you need to evacuate your home quickly.

If a disaster strikes your community, your citizens will look to their local government leaders for the latest news, updates, alerts, and safety instructions. Ensure you have an emergency notification system in place to communicate quickly and effectively with citizens and travelers when disaster strikes. Utilizing a system that integrates with the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) ensures the greatest reach of your message to residents and travelers. Click below to learn more about the benefits of IPAWS.

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