Emergency Preparedness for Citizens Living with Disabilities

A natural disaster is a terrifying event for anyone to experience. For elderly citizens, or those living with a disability, a natural disaster or local emergency can be that much more frightening and challenging to manage.

by CivicPlus / April 22, 2018

A natural disaster is a terrifying event for anyone to experience. For elderly citizens, or those living with a disability, a natural disaster or local emergency can be that much more frightening and challenging to manage. For the visually impaired, navigating a flood environment can pose severe hazards. For those with an auditory impairment, tornado warning sirens may be ineffective. For those with mobility issues, safely evacuating a home after an earthquake may be impossible.

Education and awareness remain the first essential steps for disabled citizens to stay safe during an emergency. Ryan Strait, Director of Public Safety at CivicPlus®, advises public safety officers to take an active role in helping to educate all citizens on how to prepare for, and react safely in response to, a natural disaster, especially those 56 million Americans living with a disability.

Equitable Access to Safety Instructions

Strait urges communities to understand that citizens with special needs will require different levels of support from their local government, not only depending on their limitations but also depending on the disaster, that is taking place.

“Communities should regularly educate their citizens on how to create individual safety plans to accommodate loved ones with disabilities,” said Strait. “Every family in your community should put a proactive plan in place for how to safely obtain assistance evacuating their home in the event of an emergency. For those who care for the elderly or the disabled, special accommodations will need to be taken into consideration.”

Strait suggests that local governments encourage families of disabled citizens to start by becoming familiar with the types of natural disasters that are most common in your region.

“Your community may be at above-average risk for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, or mudslides,” said Strait. “Your local risk factors should be taken into consideration for each family’s safety plan.” Strait also encourages citizens to keep emergency supplies in stock, such as first aid materials, canned food, bottles of water, blankets, and batteries, along with at least a seven-day supply of all necessary medications.

Strait explains that preparations go beyond the individual household level.

“It is the job of local governments to repeatedly remind citizens to prepare for the unexpected and to relentlessly encourage citizens to sign up to receive voicemail or text message alerts from your community’s emergency notification system,” she said.

Strait also suggests public safety officers routinely remind citizens to familiarize themselves with local emergency resources and keep an operable carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm functioning in their home. Throughout the year, public safety officers should share reminders of these essential safety best practices via all available channels, including social media, your local government website, and at community events.

Strait also suggests that local governments publish safety tips to their citizens that are tailored to the safety needs of citizens with the most common types of disabilities seen across the nation. What follows is a list of best practices Strait suggests local governments use as the foundation of safety instructions to protect disabled citizens in the event of a natural disaster.

For the Visually Impaired

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.4 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either blind or visually impaired. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, visually disabled citizens should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • If you own a service animal, ensure keeping your animal’s safety is part of your emergency preparedness plan.
  • If you utilize a cane, keep a spare at home, work, school, and with your emergency supplies.

For the Hearing Impaired

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, hearing disabled citizens should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • Install a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm that utilizes flashing lights to notify you in the event of a fire or gas leak.
  • If you use a hearing aid, store extra batteries in your emergency safety kit. When not in use, store your hearing aid in an easily accessible location.
  • If applicable, keep a note in your emergency safety kit that says, “I speak American Sign Language (ASL) and need an ASL interpreter” to help you communicate with emergency personnel.

For the Mobility Impaired

According to the CDC, approximately 13 percent of Americans have a mobility disability, or experience serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs. To be best prepared for an unexpected disaster, citizens with a mobility impairment should also follow these emergency readiness tips:

  • If you use a wheelchair and an earthquake strikes, lock the wheels, and cover your head.
  • Keep your emergency supply kit in a backpack attached to your walker, wheelchair, or scooter.
  • Keep gloves in your emergency kit to protect your hands in case you have to travel over dangerous debris.
  • Ensure pieces of furniture in your home do not pose barriers if you need to evacuate your home quickly.

“If a disaster strikes your community, your citizens will look to their local government leaders for the latest news, updates, alerts, and safety instructions,” said Strait. “Ensure you have an emergency notification system in place to communicate quickly and effectively with citizens and travelers when disaster strikes.”

Strait encourages public safety offices to choose a mass notification system that integrates with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to ensure the greatest reach of your message to residents and travelers.

“When a disaster strikes your community, you will want to leverage every possible channel to keep all citizens safe and informed,” said Strait.

CivicReady is the mass notification solution built specifically for local governments to communicate emergency alerts and routine information with citizens. CivicReady is a product of CivicPlus, THE integrated technology platform for local government. CivicPlus has more than 20 years of experience focused exclusively on local governmets. Over 55,000+ local government employees use CP’s software solutions. Learn more about CivicReady at www.civicready.com and CivicPlus at www.civicplus.com.

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