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  • Christinne Rudd

Hurricane Preparedness is Imperative for Floridians with Disabilities

Group of Florida self-advocates posting with Administration on Disabilities Commissioner Julie Hocker

Hurricane season is upon us once again. It’s important to be prepared for weather events or emergencies that may occur in Florida, especially as a person with a disability. Here are some helpful tips and tools to do just that as well as advice from those who experienced Hurricane Michael.

Each year, local officials improve on their hurricane preparedness based on what they learned from previous years. The goal is to ensure the safety of all residents and oversee all emergency procedures, so that they go smoothly once the state switches to hurricane warning mode. Self-advocates should become familiar with the procedures they will need to follow in the event a storm hits and they choose to utilize a special needs shelter. The simple act of being informed increases the amount of empowerment we feel, especially in such an uncertain situation.

Preparation starts long before storms are on the horizon. Working with friends, family, other caregivers – and your support coordinator if you receive Medicaid waiver services -- on a plan for your care before, during, and after a storm is vital. Commit the plan to writing and know where it is at all times.

Having a family plan for when a storm hits is also recommended. This tool will help you and your loved ones know what to do if you get separated, or where to go that is considered a meet up spot. Maintaining a supply and list of current medications as well as a list of allergies and other health conditions is also a good idea to have handy. Another idea would be to keep an emergency contact list with medical and healthcare providers up to date.

Another step you can take now to prepare for a hurricane is to sign up with the special needs registry. It’s also important to be informed of what’s available at and the limitations of a special needs shelter. Signing up for the registry does not automatically hold you a spot at a special needs shelter. Contact your local emergency management agency at the link above for more information on the registry and how special needs shelters in your area work.

“Special Needs Shelters aren’t equipped for complicated disabilities and people that need hospital beds and equipment. If you need a lot of equipment to go with you, it’s not easy because all they provide are plugs for you to plug things in and a generator. It’s not like there are people there to help you. You have to bring your own help. I know they have some people there to help, but they tell you to bring your own aide with you,” said Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND) President Amanda Baker. Amanda was displaced by Hurricane Michael and has since relocated from her long-time home of Panama City to Tallahassee.

Your preparedness plan must include an evacuation plan. This will help you make the decision of whether to evacuate your home or ride out the storm more efficiently if faced with that decision. It’s important to know your options and have a course of action to follow depending on your circumstances before putting your plan into motion.

What about supplies? Living in Florida, we know standard hurricane preparations include things like having enough bottled water and non-perishable food for each person living in your home for a week is vital. Water can become scarce once advisories are issued so shop early and be ready. You can always donate unused water to a local food bank, shelter, or school at the end of the season. The shelf life of canned goods is long so buy things you like and will eat anyway throughout the year if you don’t use them during an emergency. Taking advantage now of those BOGO canned meats, fruits, and veggies will mean less stocking up when the crowds hit the stores when a storm is on its way. Other important hurricane kit items include batteries and a crank or battery-operated weather radio. Consult this resource for help in putting together a hurricane kit.

When a hurricane advisory is issued, it’s time to keep a close watch on the track of the storm since hurricanes can change track at any given moment. Residents of the Panhandle were caught off guard when Michael was elevated from a projected Category 3 to high Category 4 in a matter of hours.

Erica Turner, who survived Hurricane Michael in Panama City, advises: “Make sure you are prepared. Even if you think that you have enough stuff, you probably don't. Also, plan an exit strategy and then a plan B and C. Make sure you know where all shelters in your town are located. Once the storm hits there is usually zero communication.”

“It’s better to be over prepared than not have what you need or wish you would’ve bought something later. No matter how much of a pain it is for you to go buy supplies, you have to be prepared,” Baker said.

After the storm, self-advocates can work to initiate changes needed in disaster preparedness by looking for opportunities to share hurricane experiences with emergency management officials in various settings, such as town halls, teleconferences, or even public meetings.

Baker has applied to be a member of the National Advisory Council for FEMA. “I think we can’t change anything until there’s awareness. People already in the system with APD and other agencies need to ask for a better system and a better plan. They can have the three-day plan but they need to have a long-range plan of where you are going to go if things are wiped out completely," she said.

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