AMU Emergency Management Original

Emergency Preparedness for People Who Have Disabilities

By Gayle Walter, Ph.D., MCHES
Faculty Member, Public Health

It’s that time of year when severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flash floods affect many areas of the United States. If you have a mobility, hearing, learning, or seeing disability, it’s important to know what disasters may affect you and how you can prepare for emergency situations.

Listen for Messages from Emergency Management Authorities

Depending on the nature of the emergency, local emergency management may call for a general evacuation or ask residents to shelter in place. suggests keeping a NOAA Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station. In addition, keep an eye on the television, radio and social media channels to receive severe weather alerts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an app where you can get weather alerts from the National Weather Service. If you travel frequently, the app is beneficial since you can receive alerts for up to five different locations nationwide. You can easily download the app to your iPhone or Android device.

Have a Plan So That You’re Ready Whenever Severe Weather Strikes

The most important part of preparing for severe weather is to make a plan. Emergencies and disasters can strike quickly and without warning.

But you are in the best position to plan for your own safety and to create an emergency preparedness kit, since you know your functional abilities and possible needs after a disaster. The golden rule is to have the ability to sustain yourself and your family without electricity, water, or food for three days.

In addition to creating your emergency preparedness kit, there are other factors that you should consider based on your disability. For example, you may need to find a shelter that will accommodate your service animal, caregiver, personal assistant or any assistive technology devices you need.

To travel to the shelter, you should identify the transportation services available to you, such as public transportation or paratransit services. In many rural areas, those services are not readily available, which further complicates your ability to evacuate. Consider creating an agreement ahead of time with a family member, friend, or neighbor to provide you with transport and alleviate the worry of reaching a shelter.

Performing a Self-Assessment of What You’ll Need in an Emergency

To determine what resources are needed to help you cope effectively, the American Red Cross recommends completing a personal assessment with your personal support network or self-help team. The different needs you’ll need to consider are the activities of daily living, getting around and evacuation.

Some questions to think about regarding your needs in an emergency include: 

  • Do you regularly need assistance with personal care? 
  • What will you do if water is cut off for several days? 
  • When getting around, how will you cope with any debris in your home, your yard or your planned exit route? 
  • If you have to evacuate your home or workplace, do you need others to help you evacuate? 
  • Are there other exits (stairs or ramps) that you can access if an elevator is not working properly? 

Knowing the responses to these questions ahead of time and making any necessary arrangements will help you to better prepare for a disaster.

Many Communities Maintain a List of People Who Need Extra Help

In many communities, local emergency management and emergency management services (EMS) maintain a list of individuals with disabilities. This type of list allows first responders to quickly help those people during an emergency.  

Each community may have a different procedure for adding names to the registry, so it is suggested you contact your city EMS/ambulance service through the non-emergency number to inquire about getting on the list. Even if you are temporarily disabled due to illness, injury or surgical procedure, it’s still a good idea to let your local EMS know of your situation.

Other Emergency Preparedness Tips

If you have a disability that requires electricity for life-sustaining equipment such as a dialysis machine or respirator, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider about preparing for a power outage. If the machine cannot function on batteries alone, a generator may be needed. 

If possible, an alternate site with electricity should be identified ahead of time. There are also electric companies that request to be notified by their customers who use life-sustaining equipment. For example, PSE&G in New Jersey will reach out to those customers when the risk of power outages is high due to forecasted severe weather.

Similarly, a list of your medications and the model numbers for your medical equipment should be written down and stored in a waterproof container within your emergency preparedness kit. It is also advisable to wear medical alert tags or bracelets in the event you aren’t able to communicate with first responders. has additional information on emergency preparedness based on different types of disabilities. This information is vital to keep you safe and unharmed during a severe weather event.

Dr. Gayle Walter is a part-time faculty member in the public health program. She holds a B.S. in health services management from Independence University, a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Walden University with an emphasis on community health promotion and education, and a Ph.D. in public health from Walden University. Gayle has been teaching both graduate and undergraduate programs in public health and health care administration for approximately 11 years. She enjoys giving back to her community and is currently the Secretary for the Free Medical and Dental Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa.

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