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Spotlight on Safety: Disaster Preparedness

Although we as Americans lead relatively safe day-to-day lives, the threat of emergency via severe weather, natural disaster, or terrorist attack is very real.  Emergency situations can very quickly escalate into chaos, and victims can quickly become disoriented, panicked, lost or injured.   For a person with developmental or physical disabilities, an emergency situation becomes even more dangerous.  While a frightening ordeal for anyone involved, there are ways to lessen the negative impact; the key to safety in the event of an emergency is the execution of a detailed, practiced disaster plan.

The following are some helpful tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on how to effectively prepare your agency, employees, and consumers for an emergency situation.

Get Informed /Identify Your Resources/Support Network

·     Be aware of the types of hazards that may affect your community.  Wildfires, floods, power outages, and snow storms all occur regularly in different parts of Arizona and have the potential to create an emergency situation for your agency. 

·     Find out what emergency plans and resources are available in your area, and determine whether those plans have considered your agency’s needs. 

·     Maintain a detailed list of resources for your agency and each of its consumers.  Your consumers’ “support network” should contain contact information for family members, service providers, and healthcare attendants who can help in the event of an emergency; your agency’s support network should include personnel, emergency services, and partner agencies that may be able to assist.  All lists should contain at least one out-of-state contact in the event that local contacts are also affected by the emergency.

Make a Plan

·     Be sure to develop a specific plan for each aspect of your agency; child care facilities, group homes, day program facilities, and administrative offices will all have very different needs during an emergency.

·     Make a plan that considers various hazards that can strike your community.  The National Organization on Disability recommends adapting the contingencies your agency uses daily to deal with smaller events such as power outages or traffic closures; these plans may help as you consider larger disasters such as floods or terrorism.

·     Consider that some methods of communication may fail in an emergency; always have multiple backups.  Strategies may include moving to a pre-determined meeting place, using battery-powered walkie- talkies, email, or other technology not reliant on phone lines.

Evacuation vs. Sheltering

There are a number of emergency situations when your facility may need to be evacuated; however, keep in mind that there is also the possibility that conditions may exist or arise that prevent occupants from leaving the area.  Be sure to have plans for both evacuation and in-place sheltering.

In-place Sheltering/Ready Kit- In the event evacuation is not a viable option or is prohibited by emergency authorities, your agency should defer to its in-place sheltering plan.  FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommend stocking a three-day supply of food, water, and basic necessities for each person in the home or facility, for use during a sheltering event.  DHS’s disaster preparedness website (www. recommends that each “Ready Kit” contain the following supplies:

·     Water- one gallon per person, per day for drinking and sanitation

·     Non-perishable food (and a manual or battery-powered can opener)

·     Battery-powered or hand-crank radio-  For emergency and weather alerts

·     Battery-powered or hand-crank cell phone charger

·     Multiple flashlights

·     Extra batteries

·     First aid kit

·     Whistle- to signal for help

·     Dust masks- to help filter contaminated air

·     Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties- for personal sanitation

·     Small tool kit- to turn off utilities or make small repairs

·     Important documents- support network lists, medical histories, etc.

·     Items for unique needs- including a supply of consumers’ medications, special medical equipment, safety gear, etc.

Evacuation/Go Bag- Certain emergency situations may arise where it is necessary to evacuate the area and find shelter elsewhere.  DHS recommends also maintaining a “Go Bag”, which is smaller than the Ready Kit and contains only the most essential items, which can be accessed quickly and taken with in the event of an evacuation.  Your Go Bag should also contain a three-day supply of necessary provisions and should include:

·     Food and water

·     Medications and medical equipment (and ice packs if medications must stay refrigerated)

·     Important documents- support network lists and medical histories

·     Flashlight, radio, and extra batteries

·     First aid kit

·     White distress flag or cloth

Special Accommodations

Remember, it is up to you and your staff to take the necessary precautions and plan for the special situations that your agency may encounter in the event of an emergency.  Think about the special needs you encounter on a daily basis, what you would need to do to accommodate those needs in the event of an emergency, and how to better prepare for emergency workers who may arrive to assist you. Special accommodations may include:

·     Service Animals- Most emergency shelters will allow service animals to remain with their humans during an emergency.  In addition to pet food, water, and sanitation materials, be sure your Go Bag contains updated medical history, medications, vaccine history, and veterinarian contact info for each service animal.

·     Disability-related Information- In a time of distress, disabled consumers may become separated from your agency’s employees and unable to accurately communicate with emergency personnel regarding their special needs. Be sure to develop a plan that includes medical alert tags or bracelets, and written identification of each consumer’s medical needs.

·     Mobility- Consider the physical limitations of staff members and consumers.  Will they be able to exit the facility on their own in the event of an emergency?  Do you have a plan in place for those who use special medical equipment?  Be sure you have made arrangements for those who may need assistance during an evacuation.

Numerous materials are available to assist you in forming a disaster readiness plan.  Monthly preparedness tips are available from FEMA by text messaging PREPARE to 43362 (4FEMA), or you can visit FEMA online at