By Kevin Wilson and Stella Sieber
When survivors of natural disasters talk about their experiences, they often have one thought in common: “I never thought it could happen to me.” People with disabilities may feel especially overwhelmed by the idea of forces and events outside of their control, whether it’s restoring electricity for medical equipment, getting help in evacuating a building or a city, or receiving medical attention in the midst of a crisis. But planning and being prepared can be empowering, and reduce the risk of injury, loss of life, and property damage.
Here is a list of some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, including assembling an emergency supply kit. Based on this master list, we have also created an Emergency Checklist that you can print and use to check off your items as you pack them, or add notes to personalize your list.
Water: Buy 1 gallon of bottled drinking water for each family member. Make sure to keep them sealed and unopened until you need them. For baths and toilet flushing, store tap water in clean, disinfected plastic containers. Cover tightly. Store these in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight.
Food: Store nonperishable, ready-to-eat food. Best to keep are canned meat, vegetables, fruits and soup that can be consumed cold right out of the can. Do not store foods that need hot water before consuming, like dehydrated noodles and oatmeal. Avoid keeping salty food like pretzels – these make you thirsty and will only compromise your water supply. Other suggestions are boxed cereal, soda crackers, dehydrated fruit, and peanut butter.
Utensils: With all the canned food you have in storage, make sure you have a manual can opener. Disposable sporks (combination of spoon and fork) and plates should be in good supply. Include a small pot, charcoal, and a lighter or matches for heating food.
Flashlight and portable radio: Lights are important, especially when the power goes out. You will also need a radio to keep updated with the weather news. Make sure battery-operated radios/lights are in working condition. There are also portable radios combined with lights, and some even have ports for charging cell phones. For example, L.L. Bean offers a number of Eton emergency weather radios with a variety of features (solar and/or battery powered, smartphone charger, LED flashlight, AM/FM and NOAA weather band broadcasts, with automatic weather alerts).
Extra batteries: Since power supply may be cut off during a disaster without assurance when it can be returned, make sure to store a lot of batteries in the correct size.
Two-way radios: Always keep them charged to allow communication, news and updates.
Extra clothes: Keep an extra change of clothes stored in a waterproof bag. Don’t forget socks and underwear.
Towels: Have towels of all kinds and sizes: bath towels, face towels, hand towels and dish towels. If you are hit by a storm, hurricane, flood, snow or hail, you will need towels to dry.
First-aid and medication: The kit should be a waterproof, easy-to-carry case with bandages and antibiotic ointments for treating minor wounds. Include OTC drugs for treating fever, headache, diarrhea, spasms and allergies. If anyone in the family takes regular prescription drugs, these should always be in ample supply in case the drugstore is not available.
Sanitary and hygiene items: To ease survival during a disaster, stock up on toilet paper and paper napkins, toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine napkins and diapers, and soap and shampoo. Include chlorine bleach for use as disinfectant. If anyone needs contact lens solution or denture cream, include these too. If access to a toilet is limited, portable toilets are an alternative. For example, the Cleanwaste Portable Toilet is lightweight and sets up quickly and easily with three locking legs.
Tools: Keep some important handy multipurpose tools. At the minimum, choose one that has scissors, a screwdriver, knife, and pliers. There are also multipurpose hardware tools that include a hammer, wrench, axe and saw. Include a whistle, duct tape, working gloves and a map of your area among these.
Cell phones, chargers and family contact information: Make sure your cell phones are always charged and call 911 if necessary.
Important documents: In the case of abandoning your house during an emergency, it would be good to have your important documents with you when you leave. Make sure these are in ziplock bags for protection and stored in a bag ready to be carried any time. Important documents to consider: deed or lease of your house, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, proof of address, medical information and prescriptions.
Extra cash: Your credit cards might not be of any use in a disaster-stricken area. Have ready cash in case there is a chance to buy supplies.
Extra house and car keys: In case you need to abandon your house temporarily during a disaster, lock everything and keep extra keys amongst the family.
Special supplies for baby, senior, or disabled family member: If you have a baby or toddler, make sure you have baby supplies, such as bottles, milk formula and baby food. For seniors or disabled family members, remember to pack their walking cane, hearing aid, dentures, food or medication.
Entertainment items: If you have young children, bring something for their entertainment that is small enough to squeeze in your bag. These may be anything like: a small box of crayons and coloring or activity book, a small portable version of a board game like Snakes and Ladders, or a small toy like a car or doll.
Pet supplies: Pets are part of the family too. If your pet is lucky enough to be able to evacuate with you, bring your pet’s supplies. Pack a bag with food bowl, pet food, leash or carrier and identification.
An emergency survival kit should always be a waterproof container with a handle or handles that make it easy to carry around. The list looks long, and it may seem like too many things to bring. Packing them should be done with care to make sure they fit in bags and containers that the family can carry while walking.
It’s also important to create an emergency plan that fits your needs before, during and after a disaster to help you be more self-reliant in an emergency and find your family if you become separated. Be sure to share your plan with others and include a copy of it in your emergency kit.
Administration for Community Living
American Association on Health and Disability
American Red Cross
Missing Persons Hot Line
Safe and Well List
American Red Cross
Find an Open Shelter
American Red Cross
Contact Loved Ones
American Red Cross
How to Prepare for Emergencies
Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness
Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Disaster Help Line
Hotline for Evacuees to Find Shelter
National Institutes of Health
Office of Disability Employment Policy
“Survival Kit Is Sweet for Diabetics”
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
U.S. Fire Administration (USFA)
USFA Kid’s Page
When Disaster Strikes
About the Authors
Kevin Wilson, a resident of Durham, North Carolina, retired as assistant chief of Clinical Affairs, Durham County EMS in 2016 but continues to provide training to EMS personnel.
Stella Sieber is an Amputee Coalition peer visitor/trainer, PALS trainer (Promoting Amputee Life Skills), and a support group leader (Triangle Area, North Carolina).
It is not the intention of the Amputee Coalition to provide specific medical or legal advice but rather to provide consumers with information to better understand their health and healthcare issues. The Amputee Coalition does not endorse any specific treatment, technology, company, service or device. Consumers are urged to consult with their healthcare providers for specific medical advice or before making any purchasing decisions involving their care.
National Limb Loss Resource Center, a program of the Amputee Coalition, located at 900 East Hill Ave., Suite 390, Knoxville, TN 37915 | 888/267-5669
© Amputee Coalition. Local reproduction for use by Amputee Coalition constituents is permitted as long as this copyright information is included. Organizations or individuals wishing to reprint this article in other publications, including other World Wide Web sites must contact the Amputee Coalition for permission to do so.