Special Needs Emergency Preparedness – Peace of Mind – Stay in Control

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It will be too late if we are gathering resources for our special needs emergency preparedness when a hurricane is heading our way, a tornado is pushing a path of destruction toward our community, or an earthquake has shook the ground from under our feet. Preparation will be the critical component to successfully caring for our children’s needs, especially if those needs are for a medically fragile child.

You probably remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  One family’s experience during that event makes it very clear

Image of the massive Hurricane Katrina

Image of the massive Hurricane Katrina

that even if we have prepared, what we put in place could prove to be inadequate.  So we will do well to revisit and rethink our plans as things change in our community or new information regarding disasters becomes available to us.

Here is Zak’s Story.   http://emergency.cdc.gov/children/real-stories/2013/zac.asp

Even before Katrina made landfall, his family had taken him away from the danger zone.  They had planned for a week which extended well into a month.   Here are just some of the things they felt had to be planned for and included:

  • medications
  • allergies to food and medicines

    Many special needs people, not having transportation had to evacuate to the Superdome shelter during Katrina.  what if you had to be there?

    Many special needs people, not having transportation had to evacuate to the Superdome shelter during Katrina. what if you had to be there?

  • his schedule for catheterization
  • doctors and their contact information
  • pharmacy information
  • daily plan of care
  • insurance information
  • biographical sketch for things he likes/dislikes, hobbies/interests, and triggers-the things that will disturb him

This is a brief summary, please do read the article in the CDC website as it will give you some good insights on how to best prepare for your special needs child.    Their list disaster preparedness supplies list were things to do ahead of time and items that had to be secured in volume that would take time to pull together.  Now would be the time to get the work done.   On the brink of a disaster will NOT suffice.

Heat Waves, Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes and Hurricanes…. OH MY

An emergency surrounding a natural disaster gobbles up community resources very quickly and WE will have to be the ones handling our children’s welfare.  And that is as it should be.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  How about you?   There just won’t be time enough if a disaster is going to strike to then get our ducks in a row, not while it is looming over our family’s head.  Emergency preparedness is a critical part of our ongoing care for them.  We should prepare as though we will not be rescued, we need to have everything managed and in our control.

I believe one of the worst scenarios would be having our child in school or daycare, anywhere away from us when a disaster hits.  For my daughter she will most likely be out of sorts when the routine of her day becomes chaotic.  Because she can be so black and white about things, asking her to do something out of routine will potentially cause her to become chaotic too.  There are inherent dangers because she won’t be listening to and following directions which of course could put her in harm’s way. That potential is very troubling to me.  What about you, what do you worry about?

Reading the available literature like this document on earthquakes will begin to fill in the blanks for you.  It contains a list and recommendations for things like refrigerated medicines.   This is just one of many resources.


Another good resource has been developed by FEMA. http://www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs 

Two potentially horrendous situations will be the lack of prescribed medicine and power failures.  For instance what if the powered chair your child uses can’t be plugged in to be recharged.  Do you have an extra battery in the case of an emergency?

Make sure you have an adequate supply of your child's meds.   What is recommended?  3 Days

Make sure you have an adequate supply of your child’s meds. What is recommended? 3 Days

How will you move your loved one if you do not have back-ups to their assistive devices?  Prepare now as if you won’t be rescued.  Prepare as though you will be caring for all their needs during the disaster and after it for some time, maybe a few hours and maybe days.  Prepare just as you always do but with the mindset that you may be without power, without gas for heating and cooking, without water for cooking, bathing, and drinking.

What Joy There Is In Accomplishing Mobility

What Joy There Is In Accomplishing Mobility

The fact of the matter is that while not easy, emergency responders do care and do want to be there for you and your special needs child or family member.  Look at what is being accomplished in Pennsylvania where their planning is concerned.  I love that these firefighters get how an autistic child will react or not react because of being over stimulated or finding the noise around them to be disorienting.

And right in my home town, some of my local firefighters are addressing the unacceptable 91% of children who have died in a drowning as being autistic with their efforts.  In this local TV interview they explain why they are focusing on this need in the autism community and what they are doing to help.  I think you will find this clip entertaining!

Do You Remember the “March of Dimes” from your youth?

Well they are still around and still doing good work.  The March of Dimes has posted this good summary of things to think about and how to best prepare.  They include a list of items you will want to have in your emergency kit. http://newsmomsneed.marchofdimes.org/?p=14073

Spring Has Sprung

Now that spring is on our doorstep there are a host of things that being to happen as the weather shifts. The following was provided by a governmental resource to address some of the possible issues this change in weather will possibly create for us.
“Spring Has Sprung! Get Ready for Some of America’s Wildest Weather” makes several excellent points. This was published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted this heads up on March 1st regarding spring time hazards.
For many it’s a beautiful and lovely time of year, but it can also be a deadly time of year.

1) More than half of all freshwater related flood deaths every year happen because a motorist has driven into a flooded roadway.  Keep in mind that it only takes just 12 inches of water to carry a vehicle away. See this video for some good pointers.

In working with my local fire department as a Board Chairperson for 7 years there were a surprising amount of these types of dangerous floodwater rescues. The fire departments in my region all do technical white-water rescue training to handle these scary events. And you can be fined for getting caught while crossing a road that is flooded. You don’t even want to go there, and certainly NOT with your special needs child. Take your time and find another route, best decision.

2) Heat is dangerous and one of the primary weather related causes for loss of human life. With the expansiveness of drought conditions this is one that cannot be ignored.

Panic Is Not An Option

One thing I do know is that when we have invested some thought into how we are going to deal with an emergency then we will be far more effective and less likely to panic. Panic is a crippling emotion and well, we just can’t be stuck in panic mode we’ll just add more chaos to an already difficult situation, right?  First and foremost be informed of the possible disaster situations for your area.  Ensure you are able to receive emergency information and understand the emergency alert methods for your community.  It is possible to now receive alerts through your text capable cell phone.  Make sure that feature is turned on in your phone.

What’s a Good Mom and Dad to Do?

So, here are practical and important steps we should be taking, right now: Plan, Prepare, and Practice.   For our children who will find this disruption, very unsettling, practice is oh so very important.  We want them to be so comfortable with our plan that the potential for confusion or resistance will be eliminated as much as possible.  So I say…practice…practice…practice.

There are numerous resources you can tap into.  One I have found helpful is from the Autism Society.  They have a program called “Safe and Sound”.  Now I like the ‘sound’ of that!  http://www.2d-hosting.com/autism-society/living-with-autism/how-the-autism-society-can-help/safe-and-sound/preparedness-tips-for-families/  It includes a good list to help you pull together your emergency kit!

There is no need for me to repeat what has been so well done by others.  Here are a couple more from the Red Cross, FEMA and the site Ready.gov.





One of the best resources I discovered was one available in the Center for Disease Control site.   It is a packet of items that

CDC Preparedness Tool to Include Kids i the Work of Preparing

CDC Preparedness Tool to Include Kids i the Work of Preparing

can be used to help a child be a part of the emergency planning process.   I recommend doing this,  Go ahead download the pdf items and out them to use.  http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/readywrigley/  They are simple well designed forms and I think could be quite valuable, especially the one that is an ID card that you can cut out, fill out, and put into your child’s backpack.


So, I was going to try and keep this shorter than my other blog posts, but well I found so many resources that I wanted to be sure I’d covered.  It was important to not miss major points for your preparation too.

This subject can feel totally overwhelming.  

I know that is how I feel because there is allot that needs to be done.  

However, I am confident that we can be prepared if we just make the time to begin gathering what is needed.  Each week we should have pulled something more into our emergency kits until we have them finished. Then should ever a disaster strike…we aren’t going to be caught unaware and ill-prepared.

How are you doing with your preparations?  Do you have a story to share about an emergency that you and your family and special needs kiddo made it through?   I hope you will share it with us here.

Drop Us a Comment and Share What Your Experience Has Been with Early Intervention!

Drop Us a Comment and Share What Your Experience Has Been with Your Special Needs Emergency Preparedness!

6 Responses to “Special Needs Emergency Preparedness – Peace of Mind – Stay in Control

  • Hello Linda.

    What an interesting article this is, and with some fascinating and very useful links. Thank you!

    When I was working supporting adults with learning difficulties, we took them away on holiday a couple of times a year, and each time we would have everything carefully planned and worked out so that the chances of anything going wrong were minimised.

    Obviously one isn’t able to plan for absolutely every scenario, but the more that can be anticipated, the safer the overall experience.

    Thanks again and all the best to you.

    • Linda

      Yes, Peter, I do agree very much with you. I can only imagine the level of preparation and planning that went into your holidays with the special folks you were working with and for. “-) EVen if we can’t cover every base we can sure eliminate allot of confusion and discomfort when we have our supplies ready to come with us in an emergency. I felt this was critically important for kids who are medically fragile.

      Thanks for your visit and letting me know the links I have included hold value.


  • Thank you for sharing such good information. As a former special education teacher, I have experienced the level of preparedness required for a possible emergency at school. Many parents are overwhelmed with day to day needs and having a checklist will give them peace of mind. Thanks for your post!

    • Linda

      Thank you very much Mena, for dropping in and for sharing from your perspective as a former special education teacher that there is some good information here. I know about the training schools receive for a possible emergency as I used to work for the Emergency Response Commission of Arizona, known as the SERC. It is a daunting task to have the responsibility for so many lives and then to be confronted with a disaster or heaven forbid a heart breaking shooter.

      I really am grateful that you see some value here and I am hoping the parents who visit my site will take advantage of the links I have included, get their supplies list and get that “go bag” and kit ready to deploy in case of an emergency. Peace of mind, so necessary, may you have just that in whatever your new endeavors are now that you aren’t teaching anymore.


  • Hello Linda,

    I very much enjoyed your article, reading something written from the first person experience, or when the writer has a personal connection or vested interest always makes for a compelling work.

    I wanted to weigh in on few points in your piece;
    You mention routine and how important it is to the mental welfare of some special needs individuals, I couldn’t agree more. That is why it is so important for our schools to practice disaster drills, fire drills and shooter drills because they are all very different things. The issue there is some parent give push-back because they don’t want their child being scared,scared comes when something happens and you’re not prepared.

    Back ups for battery operated equipment and such; in the field we call this being redundant. Being at least 3 deep or having secondary or tertiary options to a resource, spare chair batter and manual chair back up to the daily chair. This goes for anything we rely on in normal conditions.

    Being separated from your special needs individual in the disaster, this is where building a support network is important because we can’t always do it alone, having people you and the special needs individual trusts can take some of the pressure off and will know to respond to you and your loved one before, during or after a disaster.

    Really good writing Linda, you manage to provide information and provoke conversation….well done!


    • Linda

      Hello Shawn.

      Thank you very much for weighing in on some points I have included in this post. After spending many years engaged in the emergency response community, even 7 years serving as a Board Chair for my local fire district, I know that you know what you are talking about. Your comments will help parents and caregivers reflect on the importance of the preparation aspect, and yes indeed, being prepared takes a larger measure of the fear out of a potential incident, heaven forbid any should ever occur.

      It is spot on to recommend the “redundant” provisions of battery power for those who may be in mobility assistive chairs and in need of assistive devices. This is and could be a very scary component of caring for a loved one’s needs, that of being without ability to move them to safety or whatever might be necessary because their chair’s power is down. yes having a back-up wheel chair is quite reasonable. Thanks for closing the loop on this critical issue!

      I very much appreciate your encouragement that “building a support network is important…having people you and the special needs individual trusts can take some of the pressure off”. Well spoken. Your experience and insight are VERY much appreciated.

      I am delighted you dropped into my site and am glad that our paths have crossed. Thank you very much for taking your precious time to comment.


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