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Disabilities require special attention before disaster strikes

By Joe Dougherty

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, March 24 2013 10:40 p.m. MDT

Chief Kurt Cook, left, briefs the policy group on what actions have been taken so far at the temporary emergency operations center for Salt Lake City during The Great Utah ShakeOut, Tuesday, April 17, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Editor’s note: This is the 10th of a series of columns to help Utahns get ready for emergencies, disasters and the Great Utah ShakeOut 2013. Read the rest of the articles here.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 75 percent of the people who died had some sort of disability or access or functional need. Disaster takes on a whole new meaning if you’re blind, in a wheelchair, or depend on oxygen.

The disorientation and challenges that a disaster brings are compounded when you have access and functional needs (a more updated term for special needs).

Families should make contingency plans for loved ones who have these needs. An earthquake, such as the one we practice for each year during the Great Utah ShakeOut, can disrupt electricity, eliminating power for refrigerated medicines, oxygen machines, furnaces and more. A wildfire could lead to community evacuations with little warning.

People who are not fluent in English may not be able to access information they need. As a community and as neighbors, we need to work together to take care of those around us. Emergency Essentials, Be Ready Utah and the Deseret News are bringing you these practical preparedness tips each week through April.

Remember, there’s no substitute for personal preparedness. That starts with a kit and a plan.

An emergency kit for someone with a disability or other functional need may include the following items:

Copies of medical prescriptions, doctors’ orders, and the style and serial numbers of the assistive devices you use.

At least a week’s supply of any medication or medical supplies you use regularly, or as much as you can keep on hand.

Medical insurance cards, Medicare/Medicaid cards, physician contact information, list of your allergies and health history.

Extra eyeglasses or hearing aid batteries.

Battery chargers for motorized wheelchairs.

Supplies for your service animal.

If you use a motorized wheelchair, have a lightweight manual chair available for emergencies.

Consider putting important information on to a portable thumb drive for easy transport in an evacuation.

If you have a disability, planning for emergencies may involve family, friends, caregivers, neighbors, support services and faith-based or community groups. Tell these people where you keep your emergency supplies and show them how to use your equipment. Give at least one member of your support network a key to your house or apartment.

Other plans may include contacting your city or county government's emergency information management office and working with them to use their emergency planning resources. In Utah, we have the Special Needs Registry to help with local emergency planning.

Plan now, so we can take care of ourselves and our neighbors in an emergency.

Joe Dougherty is a preparedness expert and the spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management and Be Ready Utah. Send your preparedness tips to jdougherty@utah.gov. Daily preparedness tips available at twitter.com/bereadyutah.

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