Emergencies can strike at any moment. And if a disaster occurs, whether it’s a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, or power outage, you can maximize your peace of mind if you plan ahead. That way, you won’t have to figure out what to do on the fly, when conditions are at their most chaotic.
Emergency planning is essentially contingency planning. Who might you need to contact in the event of an emergency? Where might you need to evacuate to? And what would you need to bring with you to maintain a semblance of normalcy even under unusual circumstances? What information would be helpful to convey to others you may come into contact with?
As the caregiver of an adult with intellectual or developmental disabilities, you may face extra obstacles that make reacting to emergencies a challenge. Perhaps, for instance, the person you care for is not particularly verbal. Collecting important information, deciding what to do, and deciding how to do it beforehand will make responding to an emergency easier.
If the person you care for is sensitive to unfamiliar or disorderly environments, you may wish to include items like headphones/earplugs, devices that can satisfy needs for stimulation, or even a small pop-up tent to provide some private space—which may be in short supply if you have to evacuate to a shelter environment.
When you create an emergency plan for an individual with IDD, it helps to put into writing unique aspects related to daily living and communication or emotional needs. An emergency plan that is especially tailored to the needs of adults living with IDD should include information that addresses the following:
- I need HELP with. . .
- To HELP me eat, I need . . .
- Safety precautions
- During an emergency, I may FEEL or ACT:
- To help CALM me, I would like a first responder to:
- I need to bring ______________________ with me to help me feel better.
Here’s how you can get prepared
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency offers many disaster preparedness tips for people with disabilities. A sampling follows:
- Your emergency information list should tell others you know whom to call if the individual is found unconscious, is unable to speak, or needs to evacuate quickly. If someone you care for has a communication disability, make sure your emergency information list notes the best way to communicate with the person.
- Keep at least a seven-day supply of essential medications at all times—longer, if possible. Work with doctor(s) to get extra supplies of medications and extra copies of prescriptions. Determine how often you should replace stored medication. This helps ensure that a medicine’s effectiveness does not weaken because of long storage time.
- If you do not drive, talk with your support network about how you will leave the area if the authorities advise an evacuation. In some communities, local government agencies offer transportation for persons needing assistance during an evacuation. Contact them in advance, if you believe you will need assistance.
The New York Disability and Health Program and Westchester Institute for Human Development have created a comprehensive set of forms and checklists that can help prepare caregivers of an individual with IDD long before an emergency hits. They include:
- Medical Information
- Immunizations and Medications
- Daily Living/Mobility Needs
- Communication/Emotional Needs
- Contact Information
- Escape Plan (floor plan)
- Steps in an Emergency
- My Documents
- My Health Summary
All people, including adults with IDD, do better in emergency situations when they are with people they know. Make sure the individual knows important names, phone numbers, and addresses. If their memory is unreliable, ensure they have important contact information on them at all times. The only way to be prepared is to plan ahead.
Emergency Preparedness Resources:
- Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities (Red Cross)
Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs (FEMA and Red Cross brochure)
Disaster Safety for People with Disabilities (Red Cross)
- https://www.ready.gov/disability (U.S. government)
- Resources for People with Disabilities and Their Caregivers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share many state emergency planning toolkits here.
- Emergency Preparedness: My Safety, My Responsibility, My Plan: The New York Disability and Health Program partnered with the Westchester Institute for Human Development to promote this multi-session program to train adults with intellectual disabilities.