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Access and Functional Needs

Emergency information for people with access and functional needs

The American Red Cross has developed excellent information on emergency preparedness for seniors and people with disabilities.

Establish a Personal Support Network

A personal support network is made up of individuals who will check with you in an emergency to ensure you are O.K. and to give assistance if needed. This network can consist of friends, roommates, family members, relatives, personal attendants, co-workers and neighbors.

Personal assistance services (attendants) may not be available after a major quake. Therefore it is vital that your personal support network consist of different people than your personal attendants. If you employ a personal attendant or use the services of a home health agency or other type of in-home service, discuss with these people a plan for what you will do in case of an emergency. Start your emergency planning by establishing a Personal Support Network.

Even if you do not use a personal attendant, it is important to have a Personal Support Network to assist you in coping with an emergency. Do not depend on any one person. Work out support relationships with several individuals. Identify a minimum of three people at each location where you regularly spend significant time during the week: job, home, school, volunteer site, etc.

Personal Support Network Preparedness Checklist

  • Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance
  • Exchange important keys
  • Show where you keep emergency supplies
  • Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card
  • Agree and practice a communications system on how to contact each other in an emergency. Do not count on the telephones working.
  • You and your personal support network should always notify each other when you are going out of town and when you will return


Create an Emergency Plan

Review the Family Plan guidelines and use that information to determine what you will need to do for each type of emergency. For example, in a multi-story building, people with mobility limitations often will use an elevator for day-to-day activities, but during a fire, earthquake or other major emergency elevators will not be available. Determine in advance what alternatives are available and how they can work for you if you need to evacuate.         

Meet with household members or your personal care attendant. Discuss the dangers of fire, severe weather, earthquakes, and other emergencies that might occur in your community and how you will cope with the various hazards.

Conduct an "Ability Self-Assessment"

Evaluate your capabilities, limitations and needs, as well as your surroundings to determine what type of help you will need in an emergency.

  • Will you be able to independently shut off the necessary utilities (gas, water, electricity)?
    • Do you know where shut-off valves are? Can you get to them?
    • Can you find and use the right wrench to turn those handles?
  • Can you operate a fire extinguisher?
    • Have you practiced?
    • Will extended handles make these items usable for you?
  • Will you be able to carry your evacuation kit?
    • What do you need to do in order to carry it?
    • How much can you carry regularly?
    • Do you have duplicates at other locations?
  • Have you moved or secured large objects that might block your escape path?

Write instructions for the following--keep a copy with you and share a copy with your Personal Support Network:

  • How to turn off utilities; color-code or label these for quick identification.
    • Main gas valve, located next to the meter - blue; Electrical power circuit breaker box - red; and Main water valve - green.
    • If you have a reduced or limited sense of smell, alert your personal support network to check gas leaks.
  • How to operate and safely move your essential equipment. Consider attaching simple-to-read and understand instructions to your equipment.
  • How to safely transport you if you need to be carried, and any areas of vulnerability.
  • How to provide personal assistance services.
    • Remind anyone who assists you to practice strict cleanliness and keep fingers out of mouth. With limited water and increased health hazards, the possibility of infection increases. Keep a supply of latex gloves in your emergency supply kit and ask people assisting you with personal hygiene to use them.
    • List all personal care assistance needs (dressing, bathing, etc.) with instructions on how best to assist you.
    • Make a map of where to find medications, aids and supplies. Share with your personal support network.
  • How will you evacuate. Be aware of barriers and possible hazards to a clear path of exit. Plan alternate exit paths.

Tips for Specific Disabilities

Obtain more detailed guidance on these specific disabilities at the Red Cross website.

  • Chemical Sensitivities
  • Cognitive/Psychiatric Disabilities
  • Hearing/Speech Disabilities
  • Life Support Systems
  • Mobility Disabilities
  • Visual Disabilities

Links to Partner Organizations for Additional Information

Content provided by Emergency Management

Similar topics: emergency