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Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities


Updated October 30, 2012

A major emergency management event like a hurricane, tornado, or a snow blizzard is a rare occurrence. But when something does occur that requires evacuation, preparation is essential.

If you have limitations with functional mobility, this preparation can be challenging. With a little extra planning, you can be sure that you maximize your chances of remaining safe.

When a natural disaster occurs, the best plan is to be prepared and evacuate early.  Follow the directions of your local emergency management officials. These professionals are trained to help keep you safe in the event of a major emergency.

If you or someone you know has difficulty with functional mobility, evacuation may require a little extra planning.  You may wish to ask your physical therapist or doctor about how to best manage your particular situation in the event of an emergency.

Some things to consider when planning for an emergency situation such as a hurricane, tornado, or storm evacuation:

  • People with disabilities or older adults may use special equipment, a wheelchair, or an assistive device and may require extra time during an evacuation.

  • If you require a service animal for mobility, be sure to plan for his or her needs.

  • Be sure to have a network of people who know your condition and mobility limitations and who can ensure that you are evacuated to a safe location. Ensure that people in your network are familiar with how to use your assistive device. It is a good idea to write down instructions on how to use your device, as people may have difficulty folding and transporting devices that are unfamiliar to them.

  • If you use a motorized wheelchair, be sure the battery is fully charged at all times.  Be sure to pack charging equipment when evacuating.  It may be a good idea to bring wheelchair instructions with you in case of equipment damage so others can help you make necessary repairs quickly.  If someone can help you, a non-motorized, lightweight foldable wheelchair may be the best option.

  • If you know someone who is disabled, check to make sure that he or she is safe.

  • Some older adults with movement limitations may not be tech savvy and may not have access to devices to send texts or emails.  Be sure to have a communication plan in place in case of evacuation.

Living with a disability can be a difficult thing. Managing canes, walkers, wheelchairs or other assistive devices can be extremely challenging during an emergency situation. By planning ahead and preparing, you can ensure that you have the best chance of staying safe in the unfortunate event of an emergency evacuation.

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