When disaster strikes, people with special needs are often caught unaware and face the greatest difficulty in getting their needs met. Individuals with mental illness or chronic physical illnesses like dementia, heart disease, kidney-failure, etc. can be woefully unprepared to meet the challenges that follow disaster. Emergency planning tends to focus on people who are living independently in the community rather than those with special needs.
Those individuals who depend on caregivers for daily care may be left alone without the help they desperately need. Power outages can leave people who use oxygen concentrators having to switch to oxygen tanks…and may not have access to new ones when they old ones are empty. Those who are dependent on various medications may find they are unable to get to the pharmacy to get the drugs they need, or that the pharmacy has been unable to replenish their stock. Drug withdrawal may become life threatening.
Long after a disaster is over, persons with disabilities may find resources are limited and treatments have been restricted or terminated. Caregivers who provided necessary care are involved with caring for their own families and may not be available. Disaster may be especially hard on those with severe mental illness, or on persons living in long term care facilities. Evacuation can cause further confusion and losing touch with loved ones may cause excessive stress.
Those of us who have extra needs require special planning to make sure those needs are met in the event of a disaster. Special planning means assessing what your specific needs are; not just food and water, but what medications are you dependent on? Where should you go following an emergency? Who can you count on to help?
Keep a list of your medications. Consider making a copy of your prescription before you fill it next time. Keep it on hand in case you have to use a different pharmacy. If you use medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators, nebulizers, etc. keep a list that includes the style and serial numbers. Place important information in a water-proof container along with copies of your birth certificate, license, names of your doctors and other relevant information.
A little bit of special planning might mean you’ll come through a disaster in comfort. It may even contribute to your survival.