Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to page options Skip directly to site content

Disabilities: Emergency Preparedness Training

More than 1 in 5 Americans have a disability, and many more are at risk for developing or acquiring one in their lifetime through illness, injury or aging.

Disasters can strike quickly and without warning, forcing people to leave or be confined in their home. People with disabilities and their family members should make plans to protect themselves in the event of an emergency. It is also important that first responders know how to evacuate people with disabilities safely and quickly.

Photo: Nickole ChevronNickole's Story

In 2008, a rare winter storm buried Portland, Oregon under more than a foot of snow. The city was gridlocked. Nickole Chevron was stuck in her home for eight days. Many people would consider that an inconvenience. For Nickole, whose muscles are too weak to support her body, those eight days were potentially life-threatening.

Born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that progressively weakens the body's muscles, Nickole is fully reliant on a wheelchair and full-time caregivers for most routine tasks.
Being alone for eight days was not an option. So Nickole signed up for "Ready Now! [PDF - 2.9]," an emergency preparedness training program developed through the Oregon Office of Disability and Health.

"The most important thing I learned from 'Ready Now!' was to have a back-up plan in case of an emergency situation," she said. "When I heard the snow storm was coming, I emailed all my caregivers to find out who lived close by and would be available. I made sure I had a generator, batteries for my wheelchair, and at least a week's supply of food, water and prescription medication."

Nickole said the training was empowering, and reinforced her ability to live independently with a disability. She felt better informed about the potential risks people with disabilities could encounter during a disaster. For example, clinics might close, streets and sidewalks might be impassable, or caregivers might be unable to travel.

Among the tips Nickole learned from Oregon's "Ready Now!" training are:

  • Develop a back-up plan. Inform caregivers, friends, family, neighbors or others who might be able to help during an emergency.
  • Stock up on food, water, and any necessary prescription medications, medical supplies or equipment. Have enough to last at least a week.
  • Make a list of emergency contact information and keep it handy.
  • Keep a charged car battery at home. It can power electric wheelchairs and other motorized medical equipment if there is an electricity outage.
  • Learn about alternate transportation and routes.
  • Understand the responsibilities and limitations of a "first responder" (for example, members of your local fire department of law enforcement office) during a disaster.

"This training shows people with disabilities that they can do more to triage their situation in a crisis than anyone else can," she said. "'Ready Now!' encourages people with disabilities to take ownership of their own care."

Spotlight On: Kansas

CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities funded the Kansas Disability and Health Department to create disaster planning materials and provide training for emergency responders and people with disabilities.

Emergency Preparedness Best Practices

The Best Practices website [PDF - 468KB] brings together current best practice efforts addressing disaster-related needs of people with disabilities. These are new ideas or fresh approaches using proven methods that can be copied at the state, county or grassroots level. They are often accomplished by forming partnerships among different local groups on a light budget or with small grants. Areas of focus include communication, planning, evacuation, shelters, animal preparedness, recovery, and disability awareness information.

Graphic: Community Disaster Preparedness: Nobody Left Behind.Nobody Left Behind

The Nobody Left Behind website provides resources to help personnel in the health, emergency management, response, disaster relief or disabilities fields learn more about preparing for disasters and assistance for people with disabilities. Tools include:

  • Ready, Willing, & Able Internet Course – a free two hour course covers disability etiquette, terminology, and communication and assistance techniques during disasters to assist people with sensory, physical and cognitive disabilities.
  • Disaster Checklist – the checklists highlight do's and don'ts for people with disabilities and communities.
  • Resources – a list of resources related to training, planning, and preparing businesses and individuals for disasters.

Emergency Managers and Responders

During an emergency, people with a disability may require assistance. Some physical disabilities may be obvious while others, such as mental illness or intellectual disabilities, may not be. Every person and every disability is unique. Respecting people with disabilities and treating them with dignity must be part of the response.

Tips for First Responders
This is a simple, easy-to-use tip sheet with information for assisting people with a wide range of disabilities. Originally developed by the University of Mexico's Center for Development and Disability.

Arkansas Emergency Preparedness Training
The Arkansas Disability and Health Program offers resources, tools, and training for disability providers and first responders.

Disability Preparedness
This website from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities provides information for emergency managers, responders, and service and care providers.

People with Disabilities

Protecting yourself and your family when emergencies occur requires planning ahead. You are in the best position to plan for your own safety as you are best able to know your abilities and possible needs during and after an emergency or disaster. You can cope with emergencies by preparing and practicing in advance with your family and care attendants.

Photo: Supply kit of food, water and personal supplies"Ready Now!" Toolkit [PDF - 2.92MB]
The "Ready Now!" toolkit from the Oregon Office on Disability and Health is for people with disabilities and emphasizes independence, allowing each person to address his or her specific needs. Topics include:

  • Identifying emergency situations
  • How an emergency may affect his or her abilities and independence
  • The importance of developing a personal contact list
  • Assembling a 72-hour supply kit of food, water and personal supplies
  • Preparing pets and service animals for emergencies
  • Developing evacuation plans
  • The importance of regularly updating emergency preparedness plans

Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs [PDF - 731KB]
This booklet from FEMA and the American Red Cross helps people with disabilities prepare for all kinds of emergencies.

Disability Preparedness
This website from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities provides information on how to prepare, develop a plan, use assistive technologies, and understand your rights.

More Information

Top