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Disaster Response for Families of Children with Disabilities

Jul 25, 2022
disaster response with disabilities

Parents of children with disabilities and medical needs may find disaster preparedness overwhelming, and sometimes, they may need help finding and collecting resources. All families need to be ready for emergencies and disasters, and for families of children with disabilities, extra prepping may be necessary.

Children with disabilities rely on their parents, care takers, and school personnel to keep them safe during a disaster. It is important for you and your family to design a response plan for times of crises, so that your family knows how to react. Having a disaster plan and knowing what to do will help keep both children and parents calm.

Types of Emergencies and Disasters

There are various types of emergencies and disasters that you and your family may need to prepare for.

Children with disabilities require more time to prepare for evacuation; having an extra support member you can call for reliable transportation, or ask for help, is crucial. It is also important to connect with community early warning systems and both state and local disability registries that are designed to alert families of disabilities to severe weather.

Emergencies and disasters include: 

  • Severe Weather (including tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards)
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Wildfires
  • Earthquakes

Preparedness Supplies

When prepping for emergencies and disasters, you’ll want to have extra supplies on hand. For families of children with disabilities, these resources may be difficult to gather, and they may need help obtaining basic emergency food, water, medications, and supplies. Gathering these supplies early is key. Try to assemble supplies that will last for at least three days. Power, water, food and other supplies may be unattainable, so think about goods that your family uses on a daily basis. You’ll also want to reach out to your child’s doctor for extra medication.

Once you have gathered your supplies, build a travel emergency response kit. Put this kit in a place that is easily accessible. Every few months, make sure to update the kit with nonperishable foods, batteries, up to date documents and extra medication.

Your emergency response kits should include:

  • Food that does not require refrigeration (canned vegetables, canned soup, boxed- chips, containers of nuts, etc.,)
  • 3 gallons of water, per person, per day
  • Fresh pair of clothing for each person
  • Extra medication and directions that explain how and when to use it
  • First aid kit
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Chargers and batteries
  • Diapers
  • Toiletries
  • Sleeping bags
  • Copies of important documents and forms of identification in waterproof bag
  • Cash
  • Notebook and pen
  • Comfort items (books, puzzles, toys, etc.,)

Making an Emergency Response Plan

When you design your family’s emergency response plan, you’ll first want to designate a safe location where everyone in your household can meet; if your own home is compromised in an emergency or disaster, this meeting location could be the grocery store on your block, a playground behind the local school, or a trusted neighbor’s house. For families of children with disabilities or children with medical needs, this safe space may be a hospital with reliable electricity and supplies.

Once a meeting place is agreed upon, designate one family member to bring the travel emergency response kit. This person will be responsible for grabbing the kit and meeting at the agreed-upon safe location. Once everyone arrives, you’ll need to contact your support system for next steps; it is recommended that you have a network of five support contacts who are willing to help your family in disasters. Lastly, remember to practice this response plan with your family every few months!

The Be Ready: Tips for Families of Children and Youth with Disabilities and Medical Needs toolkit offers a suite of multi-language infographics and just-in-time ADA compliant videos that are available via the website link and YouTube.   

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Shelly Brackman
Center for Family Safety and Healing

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.