Tornado Preparedness for People with Disabilities

May 05, 2011
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After all the devastation from these killer storms, former Gawker and current Blackbook editor Chris Mohney told about some real-life past experiences and remembrances that he had with tornadoes.

Mohney wrote, “One report I remember from the aftermath news came from a man in a very small town that was mostly erased by the tornado. He told the paper how his neighbor, an elderly man living alone, was always paranoid about tornadoes. The old man was partly disabled, so the neighbor would check on him whenever there was a storm. He did this as the tornado approached the town; the old man was terrified, inconsolable. When it became obvious that a real tornado was coming, the neighbor realized he had to get back to his house to see to his own family. He tried to bring the old man, but he wouldn’t come. Finally the neighbor got the old man into a closet for some protection. Even though he wouldn’t leave, the old man pleaded with the neighbor to stay. But the neighbor had to go. The tornado came and spared the neighbor’s house, but the old man’s was reduced to kindling, scraped down to the bare foundations. The old man was dead. The thing that frightened him most in the world had killed him.”

This started me thinking if most people with physical disabilities, be it requiring a wheelchair or a walker, have a disaster preparedness plan? Not just for tornadoes, although those devastating storms are what started my desire to make sure you do have a plan. Since the sirens have been blasting tornado warnings off and on during the day and the night for a week, I’ve had a good deal of practice with rushing to the basement. That meant hurriedly getting my daughter out of bed or out of her wheelchair and down the stairs. Most basements aren’t wheelchair friendly. What do other people do?

What if there is no basement and protecting yourself from an oncoming tornado meant taking shelter in a bathtub with a mattress or other protective covering pulled over you to protect you from flying debris? Getting in and out of a bathtub is difficult for some people with disabilities. For that matter, if a closet is the shelter from the storm, how many are wheelchair accessible?tornado-aftermath by Tabitha Kaylee Hawk

Yahoo news said before the tornado hit, a Birmingham Alabama trauma unit nurse was told to round up every wheelchair in the hospital. “If no one is sitting in the wheelchair, bring it to ER.” The tornado hit Birmingham. The trauma unit was eerily quiet. Then they knew why. There were no survivors.  Over 150 and still counting. In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley said there are as many as a million people that were without power. I don’t know if any of us are prepared for such a disaster, but what if you have special needs? Do you have a plan if your area’s power is knocked off the grid?

CNN spoke with a man in a wheelchair and his bedridden 87 year old mother; they had to ride out the storm. A tree fell on his house and poked holes in his roof. “He only has fire insurance, and he recently used all of his cash to pay for his father’s funeral. The power company estimates the power will be out there for 2 days, leaving the man and his mother stuck in a damaged house with no power. Fortunately, his children and other folks are at least cutting the tree that has fallen on his house.” But what if your family is not close by? Do you have a plan to get help if needed?

If you or a loved one has disabilities, you should ask about special assistance in your communities such as registering with the fire department or emergency management office, so needed help can be provided quickly in an emergency. You may have to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family in an emergency. FEMA advises:

Disability & Other Access & Functional Needs Additional Steps:
Visually impaired May be extremely reluctant to leave familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger. A guide dog could become confused or disoriented in a disaster. People with visual impairments may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dog, to safety during a disaster.
Hearing impaired May need to make special arrangements to receive warnings.
Mobility impaired May need special assistance to get to a shelter.
Single working parent May need help to plan for disasters and emergencies.
Non-English speaking persons May need assistance planning for and responding to emergencies. Community and cultural groups may be able to help keep people informed.
People without vehicles May need to make arrangements for transportation.
People with special dietary needs Should take special precautions to have an adequate emergency food supply.
People with medical conditions Should know the location and availability of more than one facility if dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment.
People with intellectual disabilities May need help responding to emergencies and getting to a shelter.
People with dementia Should be registered in the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program also has a list of advice for an emergency preparedness kit for people with disabilities. DHS also lists out disability preparedness for people with disabilities. Your Survival Source has a good list for emergency planning, a guide for children and the disabled, including a printable sign if you are immobilized in an emergency. My local Emergency Management Planning office advised having a weather radio on hand.

If you think there is plenty of time and you can prepare later, then perhaps you should look how fast these deadly tornadoes ripped through?

More tornado fury caught on tape by storm chasers. Everyone needs a disaster preparedness plan. Be safe!

Author: Tessa