Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

A Professional’s Perspective on Emergency Preparedness for Children with Disabilities

06/23/2015 | Published by: Pete BaldwinMichael Benavides

Disaster Preparedness Planning

When it comes to disasters, we recommend planning for 3 important things: communication, supplies, and shelter (including during an evacuation).

A communications plan helps if you aren’t with your family when a disaster strikes. If your children are at school or you’re at work, you’ll need a way to reconnect. Phone service (even for cell phones) might go out in a disaster, so it’s good to pick a family member or friend who lives in a different area that everyone can call as a way to check in. You can keep a written copy of this communication plan at your child’s school and give it to anyone else who takes care of your child.

A disaster kit with supplies in it is especially important if you have a child with a disability or special health-care needs. This “GO kit” has everything you need to leave your house for 72 hours. Another, larger kit should have everything you need to stay in your home for a week if there’s no water or electricity. We have ideas for what to pack in an emergency preparedness flier. And you can get more specific details about packing for a child with a disability or special health-care needs on our Emergency Preparedness for Families of Children with Disabilities page.

It’s a good idea to have your child help pack their own emergency bag, as much as they can. They can pick out a few toys or books that they’re OK not seeing for awhile and store the bag in the back of their closet. That way, they will have something of their own that’s special if you do have to evacuate.

An evacuation and shelter plan tells you evacuation routes and where you would be most likely to shelter, in or out of town. You can find your evacuation route by calling 2-1-1, or you can look at evacuation maps for cities on the Gulf Coast. You might shelter with an out-of-town relative, at a local school, or at a hospital. You can also search for and call your local American Red Cross to ask about emergency shelters.

Making an evacuation plan is tricky if your child uses equipment that would be hard to move. In this case, you might shelter at a hospital or a nursing home. You can talk to your local EMS to make an evacuation plan that includes help transporting your child to a place that would meet their medical needs. When Texas calls for evacuations, it is clear that people’s lives will be at risk, so we hope you’ll work with us at EMS. We can help you safely take care of all your family’s needs when the time comes.

Since the evacuation experiences of Hurricane Katrina, many local shelters in Texas have gotten prepared to support children who need medical equipment, such as ventilators, dialysis, oxygen, and more. And, if a shelter is not prepared, they can ask for state help to support your child. We also want you to know that most Texas shelters are prepared to support pets and service animals, so you can bring your pets with you too.

Planning for a 9-1-1 Call

As EMS professionals, we’ve helped thousands of families in medical distress. We know that, if you have a child with a disability or special health-care needs, there may be times when you call 9-1-1 for help.

Here are some tips that can help you create a plan for this kind of call:

  • If your child has health-care needs that we at EMS should know about, talk to us before there is an emergency. You can work with most EMS departments to put together a specific plan for treating your child. We will then write this up as a “memorandum,” send it to all of our teams, and place it in the dispatch notes that we (or any other responders) see when we get called to your house. You can also ask for a copy for your records. We hope you’ll call and set up a time to come meet us. It’s always helpful when we can get to know families and children with special health-care needs in the community in case there is an emergency.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about situations where you might need to call 9-1-1 (such as equipment not working, a seizure, or challenging behaviors) and the most important things we as responders should know about your child and their needs. This can help you figure out your child’s highest emergency risks and have a plan.
  • Find out who will come when you call 9-1-1. In different areas of the state, this might be hospital-based EMS, fire-based EMS, a private contractor, or a county or municipal service. If you call your local fire or police station, they can help you talk to the dispatcher or person that would send responders to your house. You can talk to the dispatcher about what you should say when you call 9-1-1 and learn who will come when you call.
  • If you call 9-1-1 and say your child is violent or acting up, you might get a police officer instead of EMS. You might want to ask for a mental health police officer. Tell 9-1-1 as clearly as you can about your child’s disability or mental health condition. If you believe it will help, you can ask the police not to use their sirens or lights. You can learn more on this site’s Working With Emergency Responders blog.
  • You are the expert on your child. EMS professionals are trained to save lives, but we might not know everything about your child’s disability or special health-care need. We need you to tell us the important things about your child’s needs as clearly and briefly as you can. Maybe you write these up on a single page that you can hand to us. Keep a copy of this page in your child’s emergency “GO Kit,” in their care notebook, on the side of the refrigerator, in their room, and anywhere else handy. You can learn more about care notebooks on our Organizing Medical Records page.
  • As much as you can, talk to us in our language by using medical terminology. This doesn’t mean you need to be a medical expert, but you are key to the important medical information we need. And when we are in the middle of saving a life, hearing things in clear medical terms really gets our attention.
  • Be ready to be on your own for the first 30 minutes. We will get to you as fast as we can, of course, but if there is a disaster it may take us longer. Be prepared to handle things while we are on our way. Having a plan for your child’s most likely health emergencies can make that 30 minutes seem a lot shorter and can be lifesaving for your child.

As EMS professionals, we have years of experience in emergency and disaster situations. In Central Texas, we’ve coordinated large scale responses to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, the Bastrop fires, the October floods of 2013, and more. Emergencies and natural disasters are stressful times for all of us. As EMS providers, we want to help you get through them. So, call 2-1-1 and ask to talk to your local EMS team if you want help making plans to take care of your child with a disability or special health-care need during one of these times.


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