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Disaster Planning for Families of Children with Special Needs


Hopefully, you will never need a disaster plan, but if you have a child with a special need, you cannot afford to be without one. Whatever the emergency, you will be able to respond quickly if you have planned ahead.

Planning for a disaster

Disaster can strike without warning. Being prepared is your best protection. You can start by gathering information on your local area.

  • Gather information. Is your area prone to earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or flooding? What about man-made disasters, such as an act of terrorism, a chemical spill, or a gas explosion? Consider all of these variables as you put a plan together. State and local emergency-planning websites can give you specific information. Disability.gov has an online locator for emergency preparedness for people with disabilities by state.
  • Know your community's warning system. Does your community have a mass warning system? What should you do when you hear one? Many installations have emergency warning systems. Check with your installation housing office for more information.
  • Locate community resources for families with special needs. What emergency shelters are available in your area? Do they have designated areas for families with special needs? Do they have TTY/TTD access and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters? Will they have refrigerators or coolers available for storing medication? Your state or local government website may have specific information on emergency planning for families with special needs.
  • Attend installation briefings. Many military installations offer emergency preparedness briefings, particularly before hurricane season. These briefings can provide valuable information, including information on local shelters and emergency contacts.
  • Discuss emergency planning with your child's doctor or medical case manager. Work with your physician to ensure that you have extra prescription medications on hand in case of disaster. If your child is medically fragile, work with your medical case manager to make a plan that specifically addresses his or her needs.
  • Include your childcare provider in your planning. If you use a childcare center, ask about their disaster plan. Make sure your emergency contact information is updated, and that you have given permission for your emergency contact to pick up your child. Also, make sure that the childcare center has your child's doctor's telephone number.
  • Plan to be without basic services. After a disaster, you may not have basic services, such as electricity or water. If your child needs a climatically controlled environment or power to run medical equipment, plan to have a back-up system available. If you live on the installation, check with your housing office about emergency generators. Ask whether you would need a physician's statement of medical necessity to get an emergency generator.
  • Make an evacuation plan. Do you have somewhere to go in case of evacuation? Do you know the best evacuation route from your home? Plan ahead and make sure your car is in good repair. If possible, use the buddy system to evacuate with a friend or neighbor. If you plan to go to a hotel, keep the phone number readily available so you can call and make a reservation well in advance. You can always call and cancel your reservation if you do not need to evacuate. Because lodging during a mandatory evacuation can be expensive, military aid societies - Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Air Force Aid Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance - can help.
  • Designate an emergency contact. Designate a point of contact (such as an out-of-state family member) you can call and let know that you are safe. Keep this number in your cell phone and on your emergency phone number list. Also, make sure your unit's Family Readiness Officer has your emergency contact's telephone number.
  • Plan for your pets. Include your pets as you put together your emergency plan. Find out what shelters in your area allow pets and make sure you have a kennel for an evacuation, if necessary. Federal law allows service animals in emergency shelters. When you pack for an evacuation, include your service animal's documentation, proof of vaccinations, and ID tags (including your telephone number and your emergency contact's telephone number). Do not forget to pack food, water, and any medications for your animal, too.

Putting together an emergency supply kit

Having an emergency supply kit readily available will help you move quickly in case of an evacuation. In addition to general items like nonperishable food, water, flashlights, and a battery-operated radio, be sure to include special items for your child, such as:

  • Medical supplies. Include a two-week supply of medication including both prescription and nonprescription medications. Include a list of the prescription names and dosages, along with the doctor's name and phone number and pharmacy name and phone number. Also, include a two-week supply of medical supplies, including sanitation and hygiene items.
  • Special food or formula. Include a two-week supply of special food or formula. Include bottles and any special feeding equipment.
  • Medical equipment and assistive devices. If your child has medical equipment or communication devices, make sure you label each with your name and contact information.
  • Batteries for electrical equipment. If necessary, keep lots of batteries or a back-up generator on hand in case you lose electricity. If you live on the installation, talk to the housing office about getting a generator in case of emergency.
  • Emergency phone numbers. Keep a list of phone numbers for your doctor or other health care providers.
  • Comfort items for your children. Include a special blanket or stuffed animal, as well as toys to help keep your children entertained. If necessary, also bring positioning pillows or an air mattress if your child cannot sleep on a cot in an emergency shelter.
  • A first-aid kit. In addition to your everyday items in a first-aid kit, make sure you have supplies specific to your special needs.

What to do when disaster strikes

If you have planned ahead, you will be better prepared to protect your family in the chaos that follows a disaster. In some cases, you may be required to evacuate your home with your child. Other disasters require you to stay at home, possibly without services. If a disaster does strike:

  • Remain calm and check your emergency supplies.
  • If necessary, use your back-up battery supply or generator.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.
  • Listen to the television or radio for news and instructions. If you have lost electricity, use your battery-operated radio. Evacuate if you are advised to do so.
  • Have a medical alert tag or bracelet on your child at all times.

In the event you are told to evacuate by local authorities:

  • Call your emergency contact and let them know your plans. Do not use the phone again unless absolutely necessary.
  • Load your car with your emergency supplies. These supplies should include plenty of food, water, and any special supplies and equipment for your child. If you are going to a shelter, include sheets and towels. If your child needs a climatically controlled environment or power to run medical equipment and generators are not available for your home, speak to your family member's Primary Care Manager (PCM) and ask if arrangements can be made for your family member to stay in a hospital or facility where power is available.
  • Take cash, credit cards, and military ID cards. If you have time, pack medical records and other important documents, such as wills and insurance paperwork.
  • Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes. Make sure you have clothing, such as rain gear or winter clothing, appropriate for your area.
  • Lock your home. If you have time, turn off electricity, water, and gas before leaving. e
  • Keep your receipts. You may be eligible for reimbursement of certain evacuation expenses. For more information, talk to your unit's Family Readiness Officer.

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