This article originally appeared in the Women’s Bar News, a publication of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY).
Hurricane Sandy left millions without power, heat and hot water. Families had to evacuate their homes. Agencies, hospitals and nursing homes had to move patients, residents and consumers to escape the treacherous winds and rising floodwaters. Counseling clients (especially those with disabilities) on effective emergency preparedness is extremely important and a service that clients will appreciate for years to come.
Emergency planning for individuals with disabilities presents a unique challenge and a plan should be developed early to deal with natural and other emergencies.
All families and other caregivers should develop an emergency plan especially when a loved one has special needs. It is important to consider what the lowest level of functioning might be for the individual with disabilities and plan for that need. Families, caregivers and agencies should anticipate the challenges ahead such as lack of power, phone services, housing, transportation, food and water.
Identify safe havens to go to during an emergency. Extra planning might be necessary for those individuals with ambulation problems. Agencies, caregivers and others should practice different ways to evacuate in case exits are blocked. The emotional well being of loved ones with special needs should be recognized and considered. Change is difficult for some individuals with disabilities and they may become anxious and overwhelmed. “Comfort items” should be included in emergency kits. Be sure to plan well in advance for medical needs. Pack seven days of medications and be sure to obtain copies of prescriptions. Agree on alternate means of communication. You may decide on a signal or whistle or use a visual sign such as a flag outside a home to indicate assistance is needed.
Families, caregivers and agencies should organize a support network team that can check on loved ones with disabilities during emergency situations. Keep written instructions on how to use appropriate medical equipment. Find out what facilities and emergency shelters are available in the area and whether they can accommodate the individual’s needs. Alert the local authorities (fire, police and utility companies) that a person with disabilities resides in the area. Many times, local and county authorities may provide a backup generator in the event of power loss.
Families, agencies, group homes and other institutions should plan for loss of important documents during disasters. Off-site back up is crucial and will avoid problems accessing information later on. Also, emergency plans should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure information and emergency kits are kept current.
Adrienne Arkontaky is the Managing Partner of the White Plains office of the Cuddy Law Firm in White Plains, NY. Adrienne’s practice focuses on special education advocacy and litigation, special needs estate planning, guardianship and Medicaid and other administrative appeals. Adrienne is co-chair of the Westchester Women’s Bar Association, Education and Lawyering and Parenting Committees.