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  • Laura Minutello

Disaster Preparedness: Disability-Centered Tips and Tricks

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

As hurricane season approaches, we at Florida Self-Advocacy Central thought it a perfect time to discuss disaster preparedness from a self-advocacy perspective. Living in the hurricane hotbed that is Florida, this won’t be an unfamiliar topic to many of us.

We’ll take the summer months to explore this topic from the perspectives of self-advocates who have survived natural disasters, found themselves in unexpected emergency situations, are dealing with physical or other barriers that could leave them in danger, and more. While upcoming articles will focus on these personal perspectives, we wanted to kick things off with some general advice on how to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season and other disasters – the most important of which, as always, is have a plan!

Develop a disaster plan (and review and update it regularly!): Think of (and talk through with others) as many emergency situations as possible, plan as best you can for these events, identify the help you think you’ll need and the people in your life who can best support you, and revisit this continually. If you receive waiver services from APD, your support coordinator should be helping you develop a disaster/emergency plan yearly. However, these plans often aren’t specific enough, so it is a good idea to make additional arrangements.

Register for your county’s special needs shelter and emergency management registry: Each county maintains an list of residents with disabilities who may need additional assistance in case of unforeseen events. These lists have been used in everything from communicating storm shelter information to informing residents where they can get the COVID-19 vaccine at home or at an accessible site. You can register online with the state Department of Health to be contacted with specifics of the registry in your county here

Take advantage of Florida’s 2021 tax holiday on emergency items: From May 28th-June 6th, many items that could be useful in in an emergency will be tax free, including ice, light sources (flashlights, candles, etc.), gas cans, and tarps. See the full list here

Make sure your medical information is accessible and up to date: Whether you keep your health information on your cell phone, wear a medic alert bracelet, or have another system entirely, make sure it’s readily available to share with medical professionals. USF’s Florida Center for Inclusive Community’s healthcare passport may be a valuable resource to help you keep your health information comprehensive and updated.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your specific needs in an emergency ahead of time: This suggestion comes from a few of our FL SAND self-advocates who have survived natural disasters. Because emergency service providers such as FEMA aren’t always equipped to determine how or why a person with a disability may require different supports than a person without a disability in recovering from a disaster, it is a good idea to have your doctor document any supports that you think you may need ahead of time. He or she can do this through a letter or in report form that you keep with your disaster plan. This way, you can possibly avoid a longer than necessary wait to receive services after a disaster.

Use an emergency checklist or other existing resource: Organizations such as the American Red Cross provide many free resources to help people in their preparations in a variety of emergent situations.

Account for any medical equipment needs in your preparation: Along with the basics such as water, food, batteries, external cell phone chargers, and flashlights, be sure to think about things like cold storage for medications, back-up wheelchairs or wheelchair batteries, etc., as well as other options for getting by if those things fail.

Be prepared for things to go wrong: Even the best of plans sometimes fail. That is even truer in emergency situations. Do your absolute best to plan, but know that you can’t possibly think of everything, and try to keep your plans flexible.

Have a suggestion or disaster-related experience to contribute? Let us know on the FSACentral Facebook page.


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