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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pearce

10 things Special Needs Parents need to do to prepare for a Disaster Emergency

Because when Disaster strikes, your child’s life may depend on it.

Are you prepared for an emergency? Do you have plans in place to protect your son or daughter during a disaster?

Because of the extra levels of care they need, children with disabilities can be hit especially hard by disasters. As we watch the news on TV and as we swipe through those streaming images of fires, hurricanes, tornados, and occastional earthquake, we are constantly being reminded that it is not a matter of if a disaster will happen, but when a disaster will occur.

These are always troubling images to see, especially when hearing the stories of those who were caught unprepared: “We never thought this would happen to us!” But think about it you must.

Here's ten tips for creating your Special Needs Disaster Preparedness plan.

10. Make a List of Health Care Information

Describe your child’s diagnosis, state specialized health care instructions and include health insurance carrier, I.D. numbers, doctors and prescriptions.

9. Describe the Things Needed for Food and Physical Comfort

Make a list of your child’s favorite foods, restrictions, allergies, medical equipment, and supplies. Describe in detail routines for daily hygiene and sleeping arrangements.

8. Provide Guidance for Emotional Comfort

Explain which toys, possessions, communication methods, entertainment devices are best for your child to feel comforted. Whether it may be surroundings, sounds, objects, soothing saying or personal contacts, it is important to note specificalities. State what kind of stress reduction tools and behavior redirects work and what may cause a meltdown and what a meltdown alert may be.

7. Create a Support Team

A support team can consist of relatives, neighbors, friend, co-workers. Once you created a support team, have their contact information (name, address, phone, and email) on file. Note: This is your emergency support team, and not your day-to-day service care workers. The ideal support team will be neighbors, family or friends who can step in to fill the gaps during an emergency.

6. Don’t leave Spot behind!

Make a plan for taking your child’s pet/service pet. Put together a supply kit with food and water and bowls (can opener if needed). Describe how Spot helps, and the words and signs that Spot understands. Most importantly, if Spot is a service pet, describe the signs, sounds and gestures that Spot understands and what each means for your child's care and comfort.

5. Establish a Family Communication Plan

Designate a family member or friend who lives outside of your area to coordinate information flow to the family; provide him/her with contact information for your Support Team and family members. This will help if your local power, internet and and cell services go offline.

4. Make an Emergency Contact list

Imagine if an earthquake, fire, or tornado makes the road home impassable. If you are somehow separated from your child whent disaster strikes, then these are the persons to call if your child or loved one is found unconscious, unable to speak, or if immediate evacuation is necessary without you.

3. Locate and Describe Disaster Shelters

Locate local shelter (i.e. basement), high ground, and community disaster shelters. Include directions to each location. Every County in the U.S. will have a website with this information. You can usually find thes spots by googling "(your County) Disaster Shelters. Here's a great shelter location tool >>> American Red Cross.

2. Put Together Two Emergency Supply Kits

One kit is meant to stay at home and the other kit is to take with you when you leave your home. Both kits should have what your loved one and you need to live for at least three days at home, and then three days at a shelter (i.e. food, water, medicine, clothing, hygiene supplies, your child’s favorite toy or possession or something familiar from home). IMPORTANT: Your kits must contain a copy of your Special Needs Disaster Plan.

1. Practice Your Emergency Plans

Hold a “fire drill” at home or your loved one’s residence. Contact your Personal Support Team. Find your Emergency Supply Kits and Spot’s Kit. Rehearse how to leave the building. Make a test-run to your shelter – at home or in the community.

The most critical part of your test drive: Circulate copies of your written emergency plans to your Support Team, and make sure they know how it will all work.

Even though we don’t like to think about it, we know that whether it will be a hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, fire, blizzard, tsunami, or pandemic, no matter where we live, a disaster may one day arrive at our doorstep. Having a Special Needs Disaster Plan is critical, because without one, your child will be at extreme risk when disaster happens.

**Please note that this list is not intended to describe the only steps you need for emergency preparedness. This is a good start, and each plan should be customized to fit the specific requirements in case of an emergency for your child or loved one with Special Needs.**

Michael Pearce, Founder, Vest Life

Tip: You can accomplish all 10 Steps and create your child’s Special Needs Disaster plan with the Emergency & Safety tools we built into Vest.


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