Special Needs: Elderly, Disabled, & Children - Be Ready

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Not everyone affected by a disaster is strong and healthy, able to fend and look out for themselves.  Most of us either live with or know someone who is too young, too frail, or physically incapable of getting anywhere or doing anything without the assistance of an able-bodied person, or perhaps we ourselves fall into this category.  These groups of citizens may have other immediate needs and differences in reaction as well, which need to be taken into consideration when planning for a disaster.

Using our tip-sheet Special Needs - Elderly, Disabled, & Children [PDF, 179Kb], keep these needs and differences in mind as your family prepares, looking for those special hazards that need mitigating and planning ahead for how to calm those who simply can't comprehend just what is going on.  Some things to keep in mind:

Elderly & disabled persons
• When doing your "home hazard hunt," don't forget to secure medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks and life support systems.

• Open up pathways within your home as much as possible, to reduce to possibility of exit paths being blocked in n earthquake.

• Keep walking aids such as canes and walkers nearby at all times, and keep extras in various places throughout the home, as well as in your vehicle.

• Have a whistle near your bed (preferably in your "immediate response kit" - see Your 12-Month Plan - where it will be easily accessible) to signal for help if needed.  Don't keep it on a nightstand, where it might fall off, or in a drawer, which might open up and send its contents flying during an earthquake.  Don't wear it around your neck while sleeping either, as this creates a strangulation hazard.

• When putting together your disaster kit, don't forget to get an extra set of batteries for any hearing aids or portable medical equipment you use.

• Keep extra emergency supplies near your bedside.  Elderly and disabled people's limited mobility can make it likely that you may need to stay in your room for awhile until help arrives.

• Plug in a security light in each room.  These lights plug into any regular outlet, and automatically turn on when the power goes out; they can also be manually turned off if a gas leak occurs.  Many also double as handheld flashlights when needed.

• Keep a list of medications, allergies, special medical needs and equipment, physicians' names and phone numbers, pharmacies, and family members with you at all times, and keep a spare copy in your disaster kit.  This information may become critical if you get injured.

• If you live alone, or are ever left home alone (even for short periods of time), find two trusted neighbors who will agree to check on you in the event of a disaster.  Make sure that they are familiar with your special needs and the location of your disaster kit, as well as how to operate any special equipment you use.  Give each of them a spare key to your home.

• When an earthquake hits, get to a safe location if you are able to do so, such as under a sturdy table.  If you are in bed, stay in bed and cover your head and neck.  If you are in a wheelchair, go to a doorway (that has no door if possible), lock your wheels, and cover your head and neck with your hands.

• After a disaster, turn on your portable radio and listen for news reports and instructions from emergency personnel.  Cooperate fully with disaster workers and emergency personnel, and comply with any instructions given to you.

• If your home is inhabitable, it is the best and safest place to be.  If you choose to leave your home, change your answering machine message (if you are able to do so) or leave a note at the door telling family members and concerned neighbors where you can be found.

• Young children will be particularly frightened by a disaster, so make sure you have comforting items for them in your disaster kit, such as extras of their favorite toys and stuffed animals.

• Determine what you will do with your children in the event of a disaster.  If you decide to evacuate your home, even temporarily, consider having a playpen or other portable "containment area" to keep young children from wandering off from the shelter site or gathering place and getting lost or in danger during the post-disaster chaos.

• Find two trustworthy neighbors that will be willing to check on any children that might be home alone during a disaster.  Make sure they know any special medical or other needs your children have and give them each a spare key to your home.

• Keep a spare stroller in your vehicle for each baby and toddler that you have.  These don't have to be fancy or expensive (a simple "umbrella" stroller will do), but will allow you to keep your children nearby and secure while you are in the process of figuring out what to do post-disaster.

• Keep spare closed-toed shoes (such as sneakers or galoshes) for your young children in your disaster kit, in addition to the pair we already recommend.  Young children and babies are particularly prone to losing shoes.

• Teach your children how to "drop, cover, and hold" and practice regularly.

• Plug security lights into each room, so that your children can still find their way if the power goes out.  Many young children don't like the dark, especially following a scary event like a disaster.

• When developing your evacuation plan, make sure to include your children in the planning, and have regular disaster drills.  Much like school fire drills, this regular practice will help your children remember what to do during the chaos of a disaster.

• If you have pets, make sure before a disaster to discuss with your children the possibility that you might not be able to take them with you if you evacuate, or that they may have to stay with someone else for awhile.  Children tend to grow extremely attached to their pets and might need help understanding why they're not with the family post-disaster.

For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):



Ready Kids

American Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Information

Sesame Street—Let’s Get Ready!

National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine, Outreach Activities & Resources

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