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Emergency preparedness planning for people with disabilities

For people with intellectual disabilities, the key to surviving a natural disaster may be in preparing for the worst, said Maribeth Mooney, research associate at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community's Center on Aging and Community at Indiana University Bloomington.

The most important thing for anyone with a developmental disability is to know where they can go in case of an emergency. By planning and rehearsing a simple series of actions, anyone can help themselves get away from danger to a safe place, bringing everything they truly need with them.

Mooney recently published "I am Citizen Prepared," a loose-leaf handbook on disaster planning and emergency preparedness for people with disabilities and their families. The idea came to her, she said, as she searched the Internet for disaster preparation tips and "everything I found was just pages and pages, and paragraphs of 10 font print, that the people with disabilities can't read." Her handbook is designed as a workbook, offering tips for what to do during blackouts, floods and hurricanes, using bold lettering and large pictures to emphasize the important points.

Here are a few tips the handbook offers for families and people with disabilities:

  • Build a network. Knowing the people and places you can expect help from in an emergency is the first major step. A few simple steps are to make sure someone outside of your home town has a copy of your important medical documents, including allergies and insurance information, just in case they get damaged or lost. Have moving and operating instructions attached to medical equipment that needs to travel with you. Prepare a plan for where you will go and what you will do in case of an emergency, and make sure people in your network have a copy, so they can find you. Also you can download a form at www.vialoflife.com and post it on your fridge; emergency personnel know to look for it, and it can inform them of any medical problems or disabilities.
  • Be Informed. Acquaint yourself with local sources of information on disasters. Call your local county government and find out the nearest building that will serve as a shelter. Find out if your town has a siren for emergencies. Ask which radio frequency will broadcast emergency information for your county, write that information down, and tape it to your radio.
  • Be Prepared. Have an emergency kit packed and stored near the door, ready to go at a moments notice. Include water, a flashlight, a hand crank radio, local maps, emergency contact numbers and copies of important medical information. Also prepare a kit for your service animal, and be aware that most shelters do not accept pets.

For more information, the handbook "I am Citizen Prepared" can be downloaded for free at http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/cac/products/citizenprepared.htm.