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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Personal Preparedness for Individuals with Disabilities: Sheltering in Place and Evacuation

During a disaster, it has been certain at-risk individuals, specifically those with access and functional needs, may require additional response assistance before, during, and after an incident. Depending on the disaster, it may be up to 72 hours before emergency personnel arrive. This means it is critical to have a personnel preparedness plan and supplies, should you need to shelter in place or evacuate.

This fact sheet contains suggested guidelines that may vary depending on one’s own personal health preparedness capabilities.

Do:

  • Create an individual emergency plan
  • Assemble a “go kit”
  • Check accessibility of local shelters
  • Keep a portable generator or back-up cell phone battery

Don’t:

  • Think it cannot happen to you
  • Wait until it is too late
  • Leave out those who can assist you in the planning process
  • Forget a flashlight, radio, and two routes for evacuation


Checklist for Necessary Items to Shelter in Place or Evacuate

  1. Stay Informed

    • Know the hazards that may impact your community (floods, blizzards, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, or extreme heat).
    • Look into neighborhood and community emergency preparedness activities and trainings.
    • If you have power-dependent medical equipment, notify local utility providers about your needs for backup or priority restoration of power.
    • Pre-plan two evacuation routes from home and work. Contact your local emergency management office for locations of sheltering facilities and evacuation routes.

  2. Assess Your Needs

    • Assess individual capabilities and needs.
    • Determine the best plan for an evacuation. What are possible options? What form of evacuation will best suit your health needs?

  3. Create a Personal Support Network

  4. Build a support team of people who will help in an emergency and provide them with instructions as they will be best suited to help in an emergency. Support teams can include friends, family, co-workers, or caretakers.

    • Make sure everyone knows your individual emergency plan.
    • Provide people in your network with an extra set of keys to your home in case of an emergency.
    • Have a transportation plan and resources to evacuate when needed.
    • Identify redundant methods of communication, make a plan, and tell your network. Have another way to charge cell phones in the event power is out.
    • Have at least one out-of-state contact and provide a copy of all important documents and medications to this person.

  5. Have a Medical Needs Summary Close By for Responders

  6. A summary of medical needs is especially important so that rescue personnel can best meet your needs.

    Your doctor should be able to assist you with the information to include on a summary of medical need but at a minimum it should have:

    • Descriptions of disabilities, accommodations, medical conditions, and/or functional needs.
    • List of medications, medical supplies, and durable medical equipment needed.
    • List of procedures, treatments, and allergies.

  7. Collect Important Documents

  8. Consider putting the following documents in a fire-safe/water-proof container. Copies of prescriptions and medical needs could also be stored on an external hard drive or USB that can be taken with you.

    Important Documents and Resources: Keep in a safe area and send copies as appropriate to your out-of-state contact.

    • Copies of prescriptions
    • Credit card and bank information
    • Social security cards
    • Cash
    • Insurance card
    • Wills/deeds
    • Immunization records
    • Licenses/birth certificates/passports

  9. Survival Kit

  10. Make sure that your survival kit contains items that will meet daily functional needs. Have a plan for medical treatments and medications.

    Life-support devices that depend on electricity: Contact your local electric company about power needs for life-sustaining devices (home dialysis, breathing machines, etc.) in advance. Some companies can put you on a “priority reconnection service” list. Let the local fire department know that you are dependent on life-support devices. If possible, obtain a means of back-up power (generator, batteries, etc.) in the event the power goes out.

    Medications

    • Ask your doctor which medications are critical and which ones you can do without for a few days or weeks. Ask how to obtain an emergency supply of medication.
    • Check regularly to make sure that medications have not expired. If the medication has expired, obtain a new supply and properly dispose of the expired medicine.
    • If you require medications or treatments (e.g., methadone, dialysis, or chemotherapy), ask your health care provider what to do in an emergency.
    • Find out if your health care provider maintains an electronic medical record that could be transferred in an emergency.

  11. At the Shelter Provide Direct and Clear Communication

  12. Take charge and practice how to quickly explain to people how best to assist you. Be prepared to give clear and concise instructions to rescue personnel and shelter staff.

    • Specific directions should be given to anyone who may provide assistance; for example, “I have low-vision, let me take your left arm above the elbow and I’ll follow you out.”
    • Practice giving instructions clearly and concisely in a few short phrases.


Additional Information

Please refer to the following resources for more descriptive information and ready-made checklists and guides to prepare for a disaster.

  • FEMA. Provides step-by-step instructions on disaster preparedness for individuals with disabilities.
  • American Red Cross. Contains detailed instructions on how to prepare for disaster and includes a self-assessment toolkit.
  • Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions. A guide to emergency preparedness for people with disabilities and other activity limitations. It offers a thorough review of evacuation examples and needed information for different types of disabilities.

  • This page last reviewed: July 06, 2017