Disaster Preparedness for Wheelchair Users

In late July 2020, parts of the east coast experienced Hurricane Isaias, and while the damage in my area was minimal, many houses on my block lost power for three days. I have lived through two other major hurricanes: Floyd (1999) and Sandy (2012), the latter of which left most without power for a week or more (myself included). Being a little older now, compared to when the previous natural disasters struck, I am more proactive in ensuring that my family and I are safe in the event of another extended outage or environmental occurrence. Disclaimer: disability is as diverse as the amount of possible natural disasters in the world. Framing this piece around electricity loss and my needs as a relatively independent wheelchair user, makes for a narrowed scope and easier writing experience. For specific inquiries, contact your community or local government to see if any resources are available.

Plan Ahead

this first point can cover a lot of different things and requires different levels of thought depending on the nature of the disability and of the event itself. The only piece of powered adaptive equipment I use (other than an accessible van) is my wheelchair, so finding a functional power outlet for situations that last for more than two days takes priority. While my adaptive inventory assessment is simple, yours may require considerations equipment relating to personal care, feeding, breathing, service animals, and more. Contacting caregivers is also important. Be sure to include auxiliary contact measures in case you are separated, as well as known meeting areas if you are forced to evacuate your home. Caregivers are often lifelines for people with disabilities, which means including them in any disaster preparedness plans is vital. Subscribing to local community alerts and emails are also helpful to assess the potential severity of certain emergencies. Electing an “out-of-town” contact is important because making long-distance calls is often easier than reaching out locally during the aftermath of a disaster. Planning has many layers and requires different components. Be diligent in creating the best one for your needs.

Buy a Generator/Backup Device

When Tim loses power, he has LED fender lights on his electric wheelchair

Technology is essential for people with disabilities. From electric wheelchairs to ventilators, it is the foundation to how people with disabilities interact with the world around them. Because electricity powers technology, it is indispensable for the disabled. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most vulnerable parts of a city’s infrastructure during an environmental crisis. Thankfully, generators can create power for electric wheelchairs and other assistive devices for a short time until regular functionality is restored. Most energy companies have a record of residence that use essential machines like ventilators and will prioritize repairing connections in those areas first to prevent loss of life. Generators, however, will perform in a pinch. If you are financially able, procuring one would be beneficial in the long run.

Prepare a Disaster Readiness Kit

They aren’t just for outdoor enthusiasts and spies! A proper readiness kit combines a first aid kit, roadside kit and the neuroses of a parent with young children into a neat package. In most cases, a slightly more involved first aid kit and flares work for short stints, but food rations and emergency water is advisable for extended engagements. Another modern addition is a portable battery bank, which has become ubiquitous in a smartphone-centric era. Just make sure they are charged.

About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.