Here in the mainland of Pennsylvania, we don’t get tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes – or if we do, they are a mere inconvenience. While that is, of course, a blessing to my home, it also means that disaster planning is not something we often think about.
The reality is that with changing weather patterns, the drain on the Earth’s resources especially in the summer, and the real threat of a fire, we have dropped the ball on an issue that should be really important for our family. When your children struggle to communicate and learn, disaster planning is a smart step that will ensure your family’s safety.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “I really don’t have time.” But consider this: During the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, 1000s of kids were misplaced from their family. And the last child took MONTHS to get back to him mom.
I. Cannot. Even. Think about that! We lost Zoe for a few hours once, it was a pure, living nightmare not knowing how she was fairing, if she was alive or not, and knowing there was no way to ask for help or tell anyone who we were.
Ok, now that I’ve put that chill up my spine, it’s time to reconsider my own family’s needs in case of emergency. Your kids’ needs won’t match mine, but I know there are things I would need to have on my list for my kids. Some of those items would be:
- An emergency contact they can trust.
- Transitional toys.
- A device for communication. This can be as simple as some PECS card or an iPad.
- Water or a mini fan. My daughter has difficulty regulating her body temperature.
- Snacks that fit their dietary needs.
Now that my back to school shopping is nearly done, this the perfect time to put together a disaster planning list. Like our kids, all families have different needs and your considerations may not match mine. By evaluating your kids’ needs and crafting an emergency plan to ﬁt those needs, your family can be better prepared.
September is National Preparedness Month – the perfect time start making a disaster plan for your family. To start, you need to understand local potential emergencies, both at home and where you work, visit and go to school. We might never get a dangerous hurricane by my home, but we’ve sure been buried under nearly 30 inches of snow and the power has gone out!
If you make a plan now that includes how to get in touch with each other, where to meet, and who can help you at your children’s school, particularly if your children cannot easily communicate their name or haven’t yet learned their address and phone number. If being without access to medications, help, or any other services your child needs to maintain his or her health, safety and independence for even a couple of hours or days could be devastating, and you need to be prepared more than ever.
The first step to making a plan for you and your family is to think about what every family member needs in a disaster or emergency situation. Here are some things to consider:
- Collect information – Create a paper copy of the contact information including phone, email, and social media info for your family, friends, caregivers, neighbors and other important people/offices, such as medical facilities, doctors, schools, workplace contacts or service providers.
- Share your emergency plans – with the trusted people in your support network – tell them what your plans are, especially about your children with communication or other challenges.
- Practice your plan with your support network – Discuss your needs and your kids’ needs ; learn about their assistance or services. You need to consider adaptations your child with special needs requires: assistive technology, food allergies and sensitivities, behavioral assists, transitional toys.
- Check your Emergency Supply Kit – Stock a basic disaster supply kit. Plan for sheltering at home, at work and on the road. For kids with allergies, this can include special food, but also remember medications, epi pens, bandages, water, medicine for cuts and burns, flashlights, extra batteries, candles and matches.
- Make a Medical Plan: Even if you do not use a computer, put important medical information for every family member onto a flash drive or mobile device for easy transport in the event of an evacuation. Have your medical professionals update it every time they make changes in your treatment or care.
- Plan for Possible Evacuation – During an emergency, be ready to explain to first responders and emergency officials that you need to evacuate and choose to go to a shelter with your family, service animal, caregiver, personal assistant, and your assistive technology devices and supplies.
- Make a Power Outage Plan – Plan alternative ways to charge your mobile devices, and communication and assistive technology devices before disaster strikes. For example, keep your rechargers charged can have a car charger.
- Behavior Support – Plan for children with disabilities and people, who may have difficulty in unfamiliar or chaotic environments. You can make a game out of your disaster plan, allowing the children to “play” through a mock event. Pick the one most likely to happen – for us, again, that would probably be a fire. And don’t be afraid to ask your child’s team or teachers at school what their plan is if you don’t know it. If your child has special needs but not their own aide, how will they help your child cope and get to safety in an emergency? How will they get in touch with you and who will they contact if they cannot get you?
For a full list of help with making your plan, what you might need, and ideas to get you started, visit the Ready.Gov Make A Plan page. They have a huge list of resources, many of them are things you would probably never think you might need in a disaster situation.
Parents can even get the kids in on the disaster planning fun! Disasters affect everyone. So it takes everyone – youth, parents and community members – to help prepare. Ready.Gov has some great resources to help get your kids involved!
Now you are ready! Grab up the family and get started on your emergency and disaster plan! To get more information on how to make a family emergency communication plan, build a disaster supply kit or to learn how to get involved in community preparedness, please visit Ready.gov/MyPlan.