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Preparedness and Response for People with Disabilities or Special NeedsGeneral Public Image

In some ways, disaster preparedness and immediate response are the same for all people, regardless of special needs. Please review the materials elsewhere on this website about general preparedness and response.

There are some special considerations, though, in preparedness for persons with disabilities or other special needs. Persons and caregivers of these persons should:

  • Identify a personal support network. Organize a network that includes your home, school, workplace, volunteer site, and any other places where you spend a lot of time. Members of your network can be roommates, relatives, neighbors, friends, and co-workers. They should be people you trust and who can check to see if you need assistance. They should know your capabilities and needs, and be able to provide help within minutes. Include a minimum of three people in your network for each location where you regularly spend a lot of time since people work different shifts, take vacations and are not always available.
  • Make a personal disaster preparedness assessment. Decide what you will be able to do for yourself and what assistance you may need before, during and after a disaster. Make a list of your personal needs and your resources for meeting them in a disaster environment. Consider personal care and equipment, transportation and mobility and evacuation needs, and needs of service animals.
  • Get informed by contacting your local emergency management office or American Red Cross Chapter to gather information about community hazards, disaster plans, and warning systems. Ask about special assistance programs available in the event of an emergency. Many communities ask people with a disability to register, usually with the local fire or police department, or the local emergency management office so needed help can be provided quickly in an emergency. Let your personal care attendant know you have registered, and with whom. If you are electric-dependent, be sure to register with your local utility company.
  • Make a personal disaster plan(PDF) that includes information about your special needs and how they would relate to your ability to respond to a disaster. Consult with caregivers and with disability-specific agencies (see “additional resources” below) as necessary in your planning.
  • Maintain and update your plan every six months

Disaster Response

In the event of a disaster, you may have to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family in an emergency. Here are some specific disaster response considerations for persons with various disabilities and special needs:

Disability/Special Need

Additional 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.

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 mental retardation

May need help responding to emergencies and getting to a shelter.

People with dementia (PDF)

Should be registered in the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program (PDF)

If you have special needs: Find out about special assistance that may be available in your community. Register with the office of emergency services or the local fire department for assistance so needed help can be provided.

Additional Resources

Georgia’s Disaster & Emergency Website. If computer access is possible during a disaster, this should be the first place to go.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) coordinates & maintains disaster response facilities & procedures in the state. It offers up-to-the-minute disaster information.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers this website for emergency preparedness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers disaster-related information for individuals here.

Ready.gov provides this section of their website to help individual Americans prepare, plan, and stay informed.

Prepare.org offers a very helpful & comprehensive overview of what to do to prepare for disasters and what to expect after a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you prepare and get trained for a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you get assistance after a disaster.

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers tips for managing traumatic stress in recovering from disasters and other traumatic events.

This Department of Veterans Affairs website details the phases of traumatic stress during and after a disaster as described by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.