We frequently write about the importance of preparation when it comes to staying safe, especially if the unexpected happens. If you are able-bodied, your emergency plan and kit for evacuation, natural disaster or fire may be straightforward and can be assembled in short order.

When you have a disability, however, taking the time to understand your special needs and how to address them, can make the difference between life and death. Diminished mobility or strength, reliance on medical equipment, cognitive differences, hearing, speaking or sight challenges, will all impact what you need to do to remain safe.

Here are some ways you can get prepared now:

  • For someone with a disability, the first, most important action you can take is to create a personal support network, according to the Red Cross. This group should include a minimum of three individuals who know to check on you in an emergency and are prepared to give assistance if needed. Their contact information should always be within reach and in your emergency preparedness kit in a sealed, water-proof container. Talk to the people in your network about alternate ways to contact each other if the phones are down or the power is out. These individuals should have your keys and know where you keep your emergency supplies. They should also be provided with copies of your emergency documents and have all the details about your health that they might need.
  • Gather information. Know what disasters could affect your area. Have a NOAA Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station and monitor TV and radio forecasts. Check with your local emergency management agency for accessible transportation options in your area and be prepared to contact them if you need to be evacuated. Find out if your emergency management agency keeps a registry of people with special needs who may need help during an emergency and have your name added to the list. Make a list of the nearest emergency response services and hospitals. If you rely on power for life-sustaining equipment, ask your power provider if they can put you on a list for priority power restoration.
  • Partner with your healthcare team. Work with your physicians, aids or counselors to assess your needs and options in an emergency. What will you need if you are alone and unreachable for several hours or days? Are there alternate supplies or equipment you should have on hand in case the power goes out? Your team can help you create a list of supplies for a survival kit and advise you about customizing your emergency plan.
  • Create your emergency plan and practice. With your family, members of your household and personal support network discuss how to prepare and respond to different types of emergencies that could happen. Identify responsibilities for each member of your household. Practice as many of the elements as possible. You will likely have additional challenges navigating the situation that everyone in your household should be aware of and accustomed to dealing with.
  • Have your survival kit ready. Make sure all your emergency items are organized in one place, easy to find and to carry. Tag all of your special needs equipment including instructions on how to use and/or move each assistive device during an emergency. Depending on your needs, wear a medical alert bracelet or carry a personal alarm that emits a loud noise to draw attention.

For more information on putting together an emergency kit or making a plan that addresses your special needs, see the following resources: