Special Needs Require a Special Disaster plan. It is your responsibility to establish a family emergency plan. Local emergency response teams get busy during a large disaster event such as a hurricane. Most state and local officials encourage citizens to be self sustained for at least the first 72 hoursFor those family’s with a special need family member this requires additional planning. Waiting for the storm or emergency to be knocking on your door is not the time to begin your preparations. Be smart and plan ahead. An emergency can strike at any time and any place. You do not need to be in a state of turmoil when disaster strikes.
Calmness and confidence can be yours when you properly prepare yourself ahead of time.
During the day I spend a lot of my time advocating Disaster Preparedness, as a response coordinator. I have seen what turmoil people go through who did not prepare. As a parent of a special needs child I have become aware of what is needed to prepare for an emergency with a special needs family member.
I want to quickly share with you some quick tips and ideas that will help you create your family emergency plan.
If your child or family member is on medication this is one of the biggest priorities. Be sure you have a list of all medications, dosage, and the Dr who prescribed it. If an evacuation is ordered you will need to have extra medication available. Most pharmacies will allow an early refill on medication with the onset of a large scale disaster such as a Hurricane. Don’t wait on getting these filled.
Have all paper work needed ready to go in a grab and go box. All of us that have special needs family members know how important accurate record keeping is for many different reasons. Your disaster plan should include insurance information, policy numbers, and how to contact them. From IEP’s to medical some of the information just can not be lost. There are small file boxes that you can get at your local stores that are inexpensive and small enough to grab and go.
For children with special needs keep in mind that most of these children weather it be Down syndrome of other wise are routine orientated. Having an emergency or having to evacuate is a huge disrupt to their routines. Be sure to have favorite items, toys, books, ect. I find portable DVD players are a god send. Be sure to have plenty of batteries. If there is a favorite calming snack that they like be sure to have plenty on hand. Be prepared your self to expect behavior changes.
Each family member should have a go bag with these comfort items in them. For my son I have two. One is for necessity items, such as food, medication, clothes. The other one is for his comfort items. Music, DVD player, his favorite toys and blankets. I use old school backpacks and lunch boxes for his grab and go bag. This gives him a sense of security because they are familiar items.
For those family members that have devices and equipment be sure you have the information for those items and if you have spare parts be sure to pack them as well. At least have them available to be able to pack and go at a moments notice.
Most states have a Special needs Registry.
For Florida there is the Florida Statue 252.355 – Registration of disabled citizens; notice
(1) In order to meet the special needs of persons who would need assistance during evacuations and sheltering because of physical and mental handicaps, each local emergency management agency in the state shall maintain a registry of disabled persons located within the jurisdiction of the local agency. The registration shall identify those persons in need of assistance and plan for resource allocation to meet those identified needs.
Individuals are eligible to be registered with the Special Needs Registry if they are 60 years of age or older, frail, elderly, medically needy, and/or disabled and are not served in or by a residential facility program. Eligible clients are required to complete and sign the Special Needs Registry Application as well as the HIPAA Disclosure of Information andHIPAA Privacy Act forms before they will be placed on the registry.
You should try and seek help or shelter from friends, neighbors, or family in a hurricane or other disaster. Public shelters should be a last resort for those who have no other choice If you cannot drive yourself, nor have any family, friends or neighbors who can take you to a shelter, you are encouraged to register for this service.
Most Counties have available this service. Contact your local Community Elder Affairs, Red Cross, or Emergency Management office to find out how to register.
Back in 2004 I had my first experience of evacuation with a special needs child in the onset of Hurricane Ivan. Because of my situation at the time I had no choice but to go to the local special needs shelter. My son was on a nebulizer at the time and had to have breathing treatments often. He was only two. I learned a lot on what I should and should not do in the event of an emergency. I knew I had to plan better and be more prepared. Having the experience I have obtained from my job has helped us as a family be more prepared. If I could change one thing and do it different I would have to say be prepared ahead of time.
Florida Division of Emergency Preparedness is Florida’s one stop for all your emergency needs before, during and after a storm or event.
Some other great resources to view are:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a variety of resources for families and children on disaster preparedness and other health and safety topics – http://www.aap.org/disasters/families.cfm. See also the AAP policy statement on Disaster Planning for Schools (2008) – http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/122/4/895
- The Council for Exceptional Children has published an article entitled Help Students Cope with Fear and Feelings Following Disaster (2005). It includes a section on special care for students with disabilities and strategies to help students with specific disabilities – http://www.cec.sped.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=3999
- The Florida Institute for Family Involvement has published a guide entitled Disaster Preparedness for Families of Children with Special Needs (Retrieved March 2006) to help families of children with special needs be prepared in the event of an emergency, disaster, or acts of terrorism. Although it is Florida oriented, much of the information is useful for all families and children with special needs – http://www.fifionline.org/resources/disaster_english.pdf (PDF: 6,871kb)
- The National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC) has gathered examples of a range of approaches states have taken to develop/implement emergency preparedness plans for early childhood programs – http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/poptopics/disasterprep.html (posted January 6, 2010). NCCIC also provides links to resources for adults working with children who have experienced traumatic events – http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/poptopics/disasters.html
- The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has resources available to help children and youth cope with traumatic events – http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/
- ZERO TO THREE has resources to support parents and caregivers in helping infants and toddlers cope with and recover from traumatic and stressful experiences – http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=key_disaster&AddInterest=1142