Emergency Preparedness for Families of Children with Disabilities
Video: Emergency Preparedness
It seems that Texas is prone to natural disasters and extreme weather. With hurricanes, floods, fires, ice storms, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, you can expect that you and your family will experience one of these at some point.
You might go away for a weekend and come back to find that your home, your phone, your mailbox, your pharmacy, and all your child’s medical paperwork are gone.
Fortunately, if you make a plan and take steps to be prepared, you can reduce the impact an emergency or natural disaster has on your family and your child. And, as you probably already know, being prepared can be a lifesaver for children with disabilities or special health care needs.
Planning for an Emergency
There are some things we learned from other families of children with disabilities that you and your family can do before an emergency happens:
Create 1 page of simple emergency instructions for your home – with information about exits, fire extinguishers, and power shut-offs. Put them where you can easily see them. Do emergency drills.
Decide where you would shelter in case of an emergency. This may be in your home, or it may be in a hospital, school, or church near you or in a nearby city. If possible, take your child to visit any location away from your home so that they are familiar with it before an emergency happens.
Make a list of family, friends, teachers, neighbors, and other caretakers who might help you in an emergency or natural disaster. Include them in your plan.
Remember your pets and service animals. Include their food, paperwork, licenses, and care in your plans.
Complete a short emergency information form to keep in your child’s backpack, at school, and at other places your child might be. Try to also keep an electronic copy that’s easy to get to if you need to evacuate. You can use an online storage system or a thumb drive, or email it to someone you trust who does not live in your community. Be sure that every one of your child’s caregivers knows where to find these forms.
If your child uses a machine that needs electricity, such as a ventilator, oxygen, or feeding pump, call your local power company and talk to them about your child’s needs. You can find their number on your monthly utility bill, and you can ask them what you need to do to get a higher priority placed on your home in case of a power outage. Also, keep a portable generator and fuel. Waivers, insurance plans, or special grants might pay for one.
After you have an emergency plan for your own home, you can check to see that there are emergency plans for the other places where your child spends time. This could include your child’s school, therapy centers, grandparents’ houses, or summer camps.
The “GO Kit”
A GO kit has all the things that your child or family has to have if you are in an emergency situation. It should include a weeklong supply of the things your child needs to live and thrive that aren’t easy to get off the shelf at a drug or grocery store. Consider that some supplies and medications might be hard to get during a natural disaster or emergency.
Your GO kit might include:
Water, ready-to-eat food, batteries, flashlights, and cell-phone chargers.
Personal hygiene supplies (including wet wipes, small towels, and antibacterial foam).
A copy of your child’s emergency plan and care notebook. See our Organizing Medical Records page to learn more about care notebooks.
Medications, medical supplies, and equipment.
Favorite toys or stuffed animals, headphones, sleep masks, or other comfort items.
Copies of important documents like a birth certificate, Social Security card, guardianship paperwork, and powers of attorney. (Keep these in a waterproof container.)
A credit card and cash.
Just 1 or 2 changes of clothing. People are likely to donate clothes to your family in an emergency.
Set a schedule for updating your GO kit. Check expiration dates and see if everything is still useable. Here are a few more GO kit suggestions.
Stocking a “GO Kit”
Some of the items you want to put in your GO kit might be hard to get, and other ones need a prescription. Here are some tips for getting your supplies:
Ask your child’s doctor or equipment provider for samples of prescription items.
See if your insurance provider will let you get a “vacation refill” (they might call this by a different name). It is a program where you can fill a prescription early if you are going out of town and will run out of your medication or supplies. You may be able to use this during hurricane or flood season.
Look for equipment exchanges such as Project Mend or work with a local nonprofit to host an equipment and supply swap in your local area.
Find resources near you that can help you replace supplies and equipment in case of a disaster.
Once a Disaster Hits
If you find yourself in an emergency situation and have to evacuate your home, here are some tips to keep in mind from other parents of children with disabilities or special health care needs:
Evacuate early (if you can) and avoid the traffic jams that can put you and your child at risk.
Be sure your child has identification with them at all times, which includes a local landline phone number in the area where you are sheltering. Your cell phone might not work during a disaster. If you and your child are separated, this number can help your child reconnect with you.
Keep your GO kit in laundry baskets. You’re going to need to do laundry anyway, so this will be helpful wherever you go.
Be sure to bring the original packaging for your prescription medications and supplies. In a true emergency situation, pharmacists can refill a prescription from the labels and packages.
Take things that will help your family feel clean. Pack personal hygiene supplies that work with or without water.
If you live in an area where evacuations happen more often (such as the Gulf Coast or a flood zone), think about turning your evacuation into a vacation. Go to an inland city with interesting things to do and learn about. This makes the experience much less stressful for your child.
An emergency or disaster is going to be stressful on your family. But, if you follow your plan, talk everything through with your child, and give them the comfort they need, then you have done a lot to take some of the stress out of a stressful situation.