Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Emergency Preparedness for People Who Use Assistive Technology

by Jorge Ruiz, Assitive Technology Coordinator at Central Coast Center for Independent Living

Living in California, the possibility of a high magnitude earthquake hitting and affecting our lives is very likely! In fact this past fall in October there was a small 5.3 magnitude earthquake that originated in San Benito County and was felt in many parts of California. 

Coincidentally, also in October, I participated with the Local Office of Emergency Services at their Emergency Operation Center for the Shakeout!  Shortly after everyone had ducked and covered, we held a three hour long exercise responding to an imaginary 7.3 magnitude earthquake and its aftershock. 

My job as the “Operator” was to take calls from emergency workers and connect them to the resources in our area. Imagine providing information and referral under heavy stress! This experience made me wonder if people with disabilities who use assistive technology (AT) are prepared for a disaster like an earthquake.

The following helpful advice was adapted from publications by the Disability Law and AdvocacyCenter of Tennessee and the Georgia Emergency Preparedness Coalition for Individuals with Disabilities and Older Adults

What Can You Do in Your Home?
Plan for the possible need to evacuate your home and do an assessment of the assistive technology (AT) you use in your home. In addition, make sure you have what you need to shelter in place. Compile a list of the AT critical to support your physical well-being and ability to communicate during an emergency. Have an appropriate back-up power supply and know how long the power supply lasts. The following questions will assist you in developing a list of AT used in your daily life.

Do you use Assistive Technology:
• To assist you with mobility?
• To help with your personal care?
• To help you during meal time?
• For communication?
• For transfers?
• For transportation?

Accessible Routes
► If you live in an apartment complex ask
about evacuation plans and routes. Check
the routes for accessibility and make sure
that designated areas of shelter are clearly

► Gather information about how first responders
will be directed to residents with disability
related needs.

In the Workplace

► Evaluate your assistive technology (AT) needs in
a workplace evacuation. Do you have personal AT
that needs to be evacuated with you? Make sure
you have what you need to shelter in place. Do you
need AT to alert you to a disaster and the need to
evacuate the building?

► Become familiar with the evacuation procedures of
your workplace and consider how a disaster may
impact your ability to leave the building safely.

► Elevators may not be available for evacuation. If the
elevators are not working, learn the evacuation plan
if you cannot use the stairs.

► If you have a mobility impairment, know what AT can
assist with evacuation. If there is AT available, where
is it located and is it easily accessible? Is someone
trained to use it? If AT is not available, ask if your
employer can purchase it.

► If you are asked to go to a designated place to wait
for help, confirm how the first responders will be
notified where you are located.

► If you have a hearing and/or visual impairment make
sure there is a working alert system in place.

► Be responsible for your own safety. Develop
your own evacuation plan. Do not depend
on just one person to assist you.
Create a support network to
ensure assistance will be

General Things to Consider

► Let your local fire department and/or utility company know about your special needs.

► If you have a power wheelchair, consider having a
manual chair as a backup. If you use a custom wheelchair
for medical support (e.g. ventilator or oxygen), attach
information to it for the first responders.
► Store backup equipment at another location.

► Teach others in your support system how to use your AT
and attach laminated instructions.

► Keep critical AT charged and have backup batteries.

► Make plans for someone to notify you of an emergency ifyou are deaf, hard of hearing or have vision impairment.

► Have a corded land line phone that does not use
electricity. A land line phone or cell phone can be used
during a power outage.

► Plan for taking AT with you. Remember to take chargers
and other components with you!

► Label or tag your AT with your contact information.

► Register your AT with the manufacturer.

► Take a photograph of yourself using your AT. This helps
clearly identify the AT belongs to you!

► Keep photographs and a record of all AT serial numbers in a safe location (safe deposit box).

► Think about how you might go about obtaining a short-term and/or long-term replacement for your AT, if needed.

► Since homeowner’s/renter’s insurance does not cover
damage by ground water, flood insurance may be needed
to replace AT lost or damaged in a disaster. Factor in the
cost of home or vehicle modifications when determining
the replacement value of your home or vehicle.

Also extremely helpful and interesting is the following video, "Prepare to Prosper," by the San Fransisco Department of Emergency Management.

Do you have a plan for disaster preparedness for your home/work/school? Share your ideas with us by using the comment button below.

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