Developing an Emergency Plan

Making a personal emergency plan is the first step. The most important things for you to consider are your surroundings, your physical abilities and the types of emergencies that may occur where you live.

It does not make sense to plan for something that will not happen in your town. For instance, a person who lives in Upstate New York does not need to worry about a tsunami, or tidal wave. But, you may need to prepare for a flood if you live near a river or creek. In addition to learning about the types of emergencies that may affect you, learn what emergency plans are in place in your community. Emergencies can occur when you and your family are away from home, so learn about plans at school and work, too. It is important to find out how you will be notified of an emergency at school and work. Learn about your community's warning signals and what you should do when you hear or see them.

Ask about registries that may be in place to help people with disabilities in an emergency. Some communities and counties have a voluntary registry for people with disabilities so help can be provided quickly. Information about registries can often be found on your county or community website home page. Contact your local emergency management office. It should be listed in the government pages of your local phone book. Many offices maintain a registry for people with disabilities. Most electric and utility companies have a voluntary registry for people who depend on oxygen or ventilators so in a power outage, they can alert officials as to who will need help. If you are uneasy participating in a registry, remember the purpose of registries is to get you help as quickly as possible.

Next, make a list of what type of help you will need during an emergency. This means you need to be aware of your physical and mental strengths and weaknesses. You do not need a mobility impairment to qualify for assistance during an emergency. For example, if you wear hearing aids or rely on lip-reading to communicate, you most likely do not have trouble understanding your co-workers in your normal office workspace. But, you might have trouble understanding them if you are standing in a smoky, dark stairwell after the power and lights have gone out. Likewise, you may have a visual impairment and a guide dog to assist you in walking around your office building. If your guide dog has participated in all emergency drills, you may not require assistance to evacuate your office in an emergency.

Some people find it easier to list all of their needs by thinking of their daily routines and activities. This includes routines for personal care, daily medications, adaptive devices and any equipment that requires electricity. Include your service animal in your list. Many agencies, such as the American Red Cross and the New York State Emergency Management Office, have created medical information sheets to help you organize this list. An example of such a sheet can be found on here.

When you have made a list of what your needs will be in an emergency, you can then focus on your personal emergency plan. Your emergency plan should be a step-by-step guideline that will help you prepare for and deal with emergency situations. A good plan can help you feel in control. Once you have your plan, share it with family members, friends, neighbors, personal care attendants and co-workers. Post your plan in your house where you can easily reference it.

It is best to start your plan by creating your personal support network. This is your "self-help team," the people who know about your needs and are willing to help in an emergency. Members of your support network could be roommates, relatives, neighbors, personal care attendants, friends and co-workers. They should be people that you trust and who care about your safety. Do not depend on just one person. The American Red Cross recommends you include at least three people in your network for each location where you normally spend a lot of time.

Once you have your support network in place, share with them your list of what your needs will be in an emergency and your emergency plan. If you use a mobility device, show your support network members how to operate and safely move it. Have them practice using it so that during an emergency, they will feel confident helping you. Practice giving short, specific directions to people. That way, you will feel confident in your abilities to communicate important information in an emergency situation. Even though you have practiced with your network, in a real emergency you may have to rely on strangers or people who have never helped you before.

Ask for members of your network to check with you immediately if local officials give an evacuation order or if a disaster occurs. This is especially important if your disability prevents you from accessing visual or audio emergency announcements. Agree on how you and your network will communicate during and after an emergency. Your telephone may not be working so have an alternative plan. Give members of your network all the necessary keys they may need to get into your house or vehicle.