Disaster & Emergency Planning: Seniors & Disabled


Information regarding disaster and emergency planning and procedures for seniors and persons with disabilities in emergencies.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Disaster Recovery Plan

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a documented process or set of procedures to recover and protect a business IT infrastructure in the event of a disaster. Such a plan, ordinarily documented in written form, specifies procedures an organization is to follow in the event of a disaster. It is "a comprehensive statement of consistent actions to be taken before, during and after a disaster." The disaster could be natural, environmental or man-made. Man-made disasters could be intentional (for example, an act of a terrorist) or unintentional (that is, accidental, such as the breakage of a man-made dam).

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People need to plan for emergency evacuation in anticipated and unanticipated situations including chemical, biological, radiological, explosion, transportation accidents, fire, floods, earthquakes, mud slides, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, and power outages, etc.

For the millions of people with disabilities around the world, surviving a disaster can be just the beginning of a greater struggle.

For people with disabilities, barrier free, as well as barrier-ridden environments, become a great deal more hostile and difficult to deal with during and after an emergency. For example, people with physical disabilities may have reduced ability to get to accessible exits, as well as reduced access to their personal items and emergency supplies. People with vision and hearing loss and people with speech related disabilities often encounter many more communication barriers, especially when regular communication channels are down or overloaded. These barriers appear at a time when rapid communication may be crucial to survival and safety.

Emergency, or disaster, planning includes preparing organizations and staff to deal with natural and manmade disasters; to support people with disabilities in preparing for a disaster; and to provide education and information to ensure local and statewide emergency officials are fully prepared to address the needs of people with disabilities in the event of an emergency. Often the needs of people with disabilities in emergency preparedness are unaddressed or plans are not well coordinated, leaving individuals with disabilities unnecessarily vulnerable in the event of an emergency.

The critical needs of individuals with disabilities during an emergency include the evacuation of transit systems, getting to safe shelter in the event of a natural disaster, and full access to transportation systems when there is a need to evacuate a particular location.

If you or someone close to you has a disability or a special need, you may have to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family in an emergency.

Steps for individuals with disability and special needs in the event of an emergency
Disability/Special NeedAdditional Steps
Visually impaired May be extremely reluctant to leave familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger. A guide dog could become confused or disoriented in a disaster. People who are blind or partially sighted may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dog, to safety during a disaster.
Hearing impaired May need to make special arrangements to receive warnings.
Mobility impaired May need special assistance to get to a shelter.
Single working parent May need help to plan for disasters and emergencies.
Non-English speaking persons May need assistance planning for and responding to emergencies. Community and cultural groups may be able to help keep people informed.
People without vehicles May need to make arrangements for transportation.
People with special dietary needs Should take special precautions to have an adequate emergency food supply.
People with medical conditions Should know the location and availability of more than one facility if dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment.
People with intellectual disabilities May need help responding to emergencies and getting to a shelter.
People with dementia Should be registered in the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program

Remember, preparedness must begin with you.

Preparation, which includes practice, is the key to success in dealing with a disaster. Preparation is an ongoing process. Keep in mind the usual means of support and assistance may not be available during an evacuation and after the disaster. Prepare a personal disaster plan with the following in mind:

  • Create a network of neighbors, relatives, friends, and coworkers to aid you in an emergency. Discuss your needs and make sure everyone knows how to operate necessary equipment.
  • Discuss your needs with your employer.
  • If you are mobility impaired and live or work in a high-rise building, have an escape chair.
  • If you live in an apartment building, ask the management to mark accessible exits clearly and to make arrangements to help you leave the building.
  • Keep specialized items ready, including extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, prescriptions, food for service animals, and any other items you might need.
  • Be sure to make provisions for medications that require refrigeration.
  • Keep a list of the type and model numbers of the medical devices you require.
  • Wear medical alert tags or bracelets to identify your disability.
  • Know the location and availability of more than one facility if you are dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment.

Disability organizations must join with relief and rescue organizations and the media to educate and inform their constituents of disaster contingency and self-help plans.

A universal design approach to meeting the needs of people with disabilities before and after a disaster will benefit many people without disabilities, such as the very young or the aged.

A look at existing agreements among relief organizations and local, state, federal, and international governments will offer guidance in developing effective strategies for universal design and implementation plans.

Quick Facts: Disaster Planning

Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance: how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together; and what you will do in different situations. Ready.gov has made it simple for you to make a family emergency plan. Download the Family Communication Plan for Parents and Kids (PDF) from FEMA and fill out the sections before printing it or emailing it to your family and friends.

Latest Disaster Planning Guides Publications

Findings based on concerns, insights and opinions of people with mobility impairments provides guidance for helping them get safely out of multistory buildings during emergencies.

Federal disaster aid available to State of Louisiana to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in area affected by severe storms and flooding.

Researchers studying evacuation data and predictors publish papers that may improve prediction models used by emergency planners, leading to more efficient evacuations and possibly saving lives.

Important information and guidelines to follow if you are stuck in a stalled elevator or lift.

Article looks at consequences of radioactive fallout from a nuclear blast, and includes emergency planning tips.

Number of workplaces failing to use an evacuation plan for disabled staff in the UK is at a shocking low.

Bumps, bruises and sprain Injuries from slips and falls on ice are common, as well as serious conditions like frostbite and hypothermia.

Tips on preparing for hurricanes and ensuring the safety of seniors in the wake of disasters.

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