Guest blogger Anita Cameron returns this week to finish her three-part series on emergency preparedness for the disability community. Make sure to read part one and part two in case you missed them. Again Handicap This expresses our privilege to host insights from such a storied disability advocate like Anita. Without additional ado, learn what actions to take to help prepare you for an emergency.
Making a Communication Plan
Have a communication plan. Write (or have someone write for you) down all of the numbers of your family members, close friends, and any caregivers. Keep a copy in your emergency bin, to-go bags, and on you if possible. It is very important to include folks who live out of town in case something big happens and the phones are tied up. Very possibly you’ll be better able to reach folks who live out of town or in another state, especially if you have a cell phone.
In fact, if you have a cell phone it will be easier to call out of the region because typically it’s the local lines that are busy or tied up. Let your out-of-town loved ones know that you are safe, and have them do the same for you if something happens in their area. Better still, with cell phones you can text out (or if possible have someone do it for you) because texting doesn’t take up the bandwidth and space that a normal call would. Texting often come with most cell plans these days, and are not expensive.
Establishing Escape and Meet-Up Plans
Go through your house with a friend, loved one, or caregiver and count the doors and windows. These are possible escape routes in case something happens. While you’re at it, take notice of bathrooms or places in your house with no windows or very small ones. These can be used as safety areas in case of a tornado.
Now go through your neighborhood with a friend or loved one. Count the number of streets near your house in all directions. Make note of streets where buses travel and what the route numbers are. Write down how you will get to these streets from every entrance and exit of your house so that you can get out of your neighborhood if you have to.
Note places like stores and parks or fields as well. Why? These can serve as meeting locations for you and your family, caregivers, loved ones, and friends. Mark down how you will get to these locations from your house (all entrances and exits) and share it so that everyone will know.
If there is a fire station in your neighborhood, stop in and let them know who you are and where you live so they will know to help you once they are able. Check with them about services like reverse 911, allowing you to be aware if there are dangers in your area or if you must evacuate.
Do you live alone or do not have family close by? Don’t worry. Contact your local independent living center (ILC). These are non-residential places where people with disabilities can go to learn independent living skills, get peer counseling or mentoring (from folks who also have disabilities), get information and referral, and advocacy, all at no cost! Every state has at least one. Some states have as many as 10 ILCs! They may be able to help you put together a plan.
In Colorado if you are coming out of a nursing home and returning to your community under the Colorado Choice Transition program, there is a new service where someone will help you make an emergency plan at no cost to you. Ask your case manager or transition coordinator for more information.
Knowing About Shelters
Sometimes you may have to evacuate your home and go to a shelter that has been set up by local agencies. Take your to-go bag with you! These shelters must be accessible to everyone, including folks with disabilities. Therefore the vast majority will be wheelchair accessible.
Similarly if you have a service animal, that animal can be with you at the shelter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Have records of the animal’s shots, etc., with you, as shelters now require this. You don’t have to prove that the animal is a service animal. Yet if you have their harness or papers, bring them with you to avoid possible hassles.
If you require a special diet, please let the shelter know. However understand that they may not be able to satisfy your dietary needs. So if possible, bring some of your food with you. Bring your medicines (they should be in your to-go bag!) because shelters generally won’t have meds. They may be able to help you get them if you have your prescription with you.
How Can You Learn More?
If all this sounds exciting and you want to learn more, including how you can help your neighbors, consider taking a CERT class and becoming a CERT. CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. In Denver, Colorado, it’s Community Emergency Response Training. CERTs are ordinary people who help first responders during a disaster or emergency.
Most areas have a local CERT. You can learn lots of helpful things like how to deal with stress during an emergency, how to help as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, how to decide if it’s safe to enter a building to rescue someone, and very basic first aid. It’s all free and people with all kinds of disabilities can take the class and become CERTs!
I know. I’m almost totally blind and have mobility issues. Not only am I a CERT, I teach it and design CERT programs! I’ve recruited people in wheelchairs, seniors, deaf people, and people on the autism spectrum to become CERTs. Even kids can become CERTs! If you are in Denver, call Carolyn Bluhm at 720-865-7698 or 303-725-3084 for more information. Tell her Anita Cameron sent you!