When Disaster Strikes, Preparation is Key

Andrea arrived in early June.  Barry is now winding down in Mexico.  No, these are not East Coast summer tourists, but rather the first of the Atlantic tropical storms this year.  Though neither storm drew the attention of monstrosities like Sandy or Katrina, in both, someone lost a home, and someone lost a life.

Despite the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, a recent survey by the Red Cross and the Weather Channel indicated that 1 in 3 East Coast residents were not prepared for a hurricane.  Not able to identify an evacuation route.  No plan for communication.  No stock of emergency supplies.  Across the nation, it was also identified that 1 in 5 households in coastal communities were home to a person with a health issue or disability.  It is important for everyone to be prepared, but it is especially critical for those with disabilities.

Here are some basic guidelines to consider when preparing for weather emergencies, but be sure to check out your local resources for specific emergency planning recommendations for your area.

Know your vulnerabilities.  Let’s face it, you can’t possibly prepare for every disaster that might strike.  But you can take steps to prepare for those emergencies that are most likely to happen in your area.  Is your area prone to flooding?  Power outages?  What is impacted if the power goes out?  Will you have running water?  Know the answers to these questions so you can be adequately prepared.

Stay informed.  I’m not telling you to keep your ear peeled to the Weather Channel all day every day, but do pay attention.  Know your local resources for accurate weather and emergency info and stay tuned.  The Red Cross has a handy Hurricane App that not only helps track storms, but also aides communication through social media outlets during power outages and offers pre-loaded content for critical action steps and tool kits with things like flashlights and audible alarms.

Know where you will go.  Have a pre-determined evacuation plan that makes sense.  If you or your loved one requires special medical equipment to be relocated, make sure the home or shelter you are heading to can accommodate.  Better yet, if your plan includes going to a friend or family member’s home in a less vulnerable area, ask if you can store some key medical supplies there in advance so you have less to transport.  If you are dependent on dialysis or other life sustaining treatment, know the location of facilities in that area.

Create personal support network.  Make sure your network knows in advance where you plan to evacuate to and where you keep your emergency supplies.   Make sure one member of your network has a key to access your home.  Give several copies of your emergency plan along with medical information to those in your network.

Make yourself known.  Alert your local rescue teams now that you or a family member have a disability and may require assistance in the event of evacuation.  Make sure they know where you are located, what room of the house you may typically be in, and what type of assistance you may need.

Heed all warnings.  Take the warnings of emergency professionals seriously.  Be prepared to meet your own basic needs for a minimum of 3 days and your own disability specific needs for 7 days.  The Red Cross has many resources such as the Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities manual to assist.  It may seem time consuming to put all the pieces in place, but preparation is the by far the best way to survive and recover from a disaster.

And so we wait… for Chantal.  She will be the next storm named for the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season and this year, forecasters are predicting it will be a busy summer.   Are you ready?

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