Marcie Roth, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management AgencyEmergencies can happen anywhere - at home or at work - and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to being prepared for a disaster. The Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) discusses preparedness for people with disabilities and people who also have access and functional needs, such as older adults.

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Everyone Must Be Prepared For Emergencies

Apr 27, 2015

Marcie Roth, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management AgencyBy Guest Blogger Marcie Roth, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management Agency


The importance of preparing ourselves for disasters is universal. Emergencies can happen anywhere - at home or at work - and everyone must take action to prepare for emergencies in case something unexpected happens.

However, the truth is there's no one-size-fits-all solution to being prepared. In fact, as Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I'm often asked to talk about preparedness for people with disabilities and people who also have access and functional needs, such as older adults.

Through my work at FEMA over the past years, I've listened to many people with disabilities who have been impacted by disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, for example, I heard from people with disabilities who were without power for days and even weeks. Some of them relied on social media for help - connecting with neighbors, friends or family members online for solutions. Others had a harder time.  

What I've learned from this experience is that everyone must be prepared to be their own "emergency manager." When disaster strikes, you may have to be able to survive on your own for 72 hours or more without access to power, food, or transportation. You also should think about your own situation and what additional needs you might have.  

Supporting community preparedness is a big part of our mission, and FEMA has done a lot of research and obtained guidance from people with disabilities, usually the true experts, to ensure that everyone has the accurate information they need to be prepared. Here are some tips for people with disabilities:

•    Have an emergency supply kit ready.  Make sure you have enough water, food and medications for yourself and your service animal (if you have one) to last at least three days. Think about other items you may need as well - extra eyeglasses, batteries for hearing aids, medical supplies, etc.  

•    Have an emergency communications plan in place.  How will you contact your family members if something happens and you're separated? Share your emergency plan with neighbors, friends and relatives so they know how to contact you if the power goes out.

•    Develop a map of resources around where you live and work so members of your support network who are unfamiliar with your neighborhood can find and get what you need. You may want to include nearby places to buy food and water. Also, include fire, police, other city agencies and local apartment/commercial buildings with their own sources of power should the citywide/town-wide power be out. Consider adding taxi stands/bus stops/subway stations, and parking regulations/parking lots, etc.

•    Ask others about what they will do to support you in an emergency. If you are a person who relies on dialysis, what will your provider do if there is an emergency? If you rely on home care or deliveries, such as Meals on Wheels, ask about emergency notifications and their plan to maintain services. If you use paratransit, find out their plans for providing service in an emergency. If you use oxygen or other life-sustaining medical equipment, show friends how to use these devices so they can move you or help you evacuate, if needed. Practice your plan with the people in your personal support network.

•    Keep assistive devices and equipment charged and ready to go.  Consider having an extra battery on a trickle charger if you use a power wheelchair or scooter. If available, have a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup and extra chargers and charging cables for all assistive devices.

•    Make sure you have access to important documents.  Collect and safeguard critical documents. Store electronic copies of your important documents on a password-protected thumb drive and in the "cloud," and if you feel comfortable doing so, give a copy to a trusted relative or friend outside your area. This way, you'll have a record of critical identification documents; medical information including where and how to get life-saving supplies and medications; financial and legal documents; and insurance information as well as important phone numbers, instructions and email addresses.

•    Keep an updated version in your "go bag." Go to Ready.gov, Be Smart. Protect Your Critical Documents and Valuables or the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit for more information and a checklist.

Being prepared is a 365-day-a-year activity. Take charge and take control to be as prepared as possible. Then add your voice to others - with and without disabilities - to be part of the planning process in your community. Citizen Corps Councils are local planning groups that include membership from across the community. Find your nearest council. Participate in America's PrepareAthon! a national, grassroots, year-round campaign for action. National PrepareAthon! Days are held every April 30th and September 30th. Find How to Prepare Guides, Playbooks and other resources for multiple hazards.

Survival during a disaster should not depend solely on individual initiative, but rather collective commitment and planning by and for everyone. People with disabilities, often accustomed to thinking outside the box to accomplish daily tasks, may be master problem solvers with much expertise to offer as their communities plan for future disasters.  

For more information, go to http://www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs.