Emergency Preparedness for AT Users

Our hearts are with Puerto Rico and their AT Program (PRATP) today following last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks; PRATP is just now learning the extent of the damages and equipment needs of residents all too familiar with natural disasters. In that spirit, below is timely advice adapted with permission from a recent blog post by Courtney Ness Fuchs of ND Assistive and augmented by Amy Goldman of AT3 Center. 

A two story home collapsed, crushing the garages below the living quarters.
Puerto Rico suffered a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on January 7th. This image was shared by Maria Hernandez, Director of Puerto Rico’s AT Program (PRATP), with the AT3 Center. She reports PRATP is ready to respond to this latest disaster.

As we enter 2020, ND Assistive encourages you to make a resolution to be prepared!  To be prepared for extreme weather events. To be prepared for a natural disaster. To be prepared for a national emergency.  While we hope to never experience such a situation, it is our individual responsibility to be prepared.

What it means to be prepared may vary from person to person. Individuals with disabilities, individuals experiencing the effects of aging, and assistive technology (AT) users may have additional considerations to include in their emergency plans. Would you be able to make it on your own for at least three days? Individuals who are normally self-sufficient may need to rely on others during a crisis.  Do you have preparations in place for others to assist you?

The US Department of Homeland Security has created a thorough resource website (ready.gov/disability) to help individuals with disabilities prepare for an emergency.

Instructions for Rescue Personnel

Create brief, clear, and specific written instructions to give to rescue personnel and have it laminated. For example: “Please take my wheelchair, communication device and power supply, and medications.”  Create and laminate instructions for each piece of assistive technology that you use.

Device Information

Keep information regarding all of your assistive technology devices stored in safe locations.  It is recommended that this information be stored in at least two locations, such as in a safe deposit box or with a friend or relative who lives 100+ miles away.  Storing this information digitally is also recommended; for example, you could email it to yourself.

This information should include:

  • Device make and model number
  • Information about how the device was obtained, i.e. device was funded by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, personal pay.
  • If the equipment was purchased, note where you purchased it.

In addition, try to register your device’s warranty card with the vendor or manufacturer, this may help facilitate replacement should that be necessary.

Power Outages

If you use a powered AT device, be sure to have a backup plan in the case of an extended power outage.  Sometimes, like in the case of a blizzard, you might have advance notice that the potential for an emergency situation exists.  When this happens, it is a smart move to make sure your devices and any backup batteries or power banks are fully charged.

Users of powered mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and scooters, are recommended to have an additional battery and a lightweight manual wheelchair available as a backup.

Users of augmentative communication devices are recommended to have a plan for how you will communicate if your device is not working.  Laminated cards with important phrases, pictures, or pictograms should be kept in a known location.

Considerations for Earthquakes

Key principles for surviving an earthquake include finding a way to protect your head and neck and staying away from falling objects and windows. We are at less risk of serious injury when we can drop, shelter and hold on (such as beneath a table that may move away from us during shaking). Wheelchair users who can will want to lock their wheels and protect their head and neck with arms, pillow or a book. 

Key principals for preparing for an earthquake include securing heavy household items from falling. In areas of risk, appliances, for example, should be kept tethered to the wall to prevent falling and moving.

For everyone: Download FEMA’s Earthquake Safety Checklist. This includes simple steps you can take to prepare at home before an earthquake. Also, review your risk for an earthquake. You might be surprised.

For people with disabilities: review earthquake preparedness guides for people with disabilities from earthquakecountry.org.