Emergency Preparedness for People with Developmental Disabilities

November 13, 2018

Special considerations for individuals with special needs and their families

It’s the time of year when we must start preparing for the snow, ice, and assorted threats that winter will soon be bringing our way.  For individuals with developmental disabilities, weather-related threats at any time of year can be serious and more difficult to deal with than the average person.  Some advance planning can be very helpful in preparing for the worst.

Individuals with special needs that may have difficulty sheltering in place in a power outage or at a time when travel is difficult, or evacuating if should it be necessary, should be registered in advance with emergency management officials by signing up with the New Jersey Special Needs Registry for Disasters.  Providing information about functional issues such as a physical impairments, communication issues, or medical or medication needs in before a disaster or crisis can help emergency responders provide appropriate assistance as well as locate and evacuate people needing extra help.

Individuals can be registered online at www.registerready.nj.gov, by calling 211, or by calling the Sussex County Office of Emergency Management/Sussex County Sheriff’s office at 973-940-5500.  All information provided will be kept confidential and only used for emergency situations and planning.

In addition to letting people know where you are and what your needs may be, individuals with special needs and their families should be especially proactive about taking precautions to prepare for an impending weather event.  Some things everyone should be sure that they have on hand are:

  • Food – three days of non-perishable, ready to eat
  • Potable Water – three day supply of water (one gallon per day per person)
  • Non-Potable Water – fill bathtubs, pails, jugs, or pots with water for washing and flushing
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Cash
  • Gas – at least a half tank
  • Cell phone – make sure phones are charged and consider an emergency phone charger backup

If a family member has special needs, you should also be sure to include:

  • A week’s supply of medication
  • Information about your medical history or needs in a waterproof bag or container
  • Contact information for family, caregivers, physicians, etc.

Once the physical and medical needs are protected, you may want to think about the emotional needs of someone with special needs.  Keeping someone calm and stimulated in an unusual situation may entail making sure that devices, tablets, etc. are charged and that craft supplies or games are ready.  Using candles for light isn’t generally recommended and could be especially dangerous around someone with special needs.  Battery operated lanterns are easy to find and give off a lot of light on a scary, dark night.

In case extremely high winds, a tornado, or other serious threat should find its way near your home Sussex County, you may want to identify a “safe” room in your house. Identifying your safe room depends on the threat.  Preferable a safe room is an interior room without windows.  In case of a tornado, the basement is an ideal option.  If the threat may include water or a release of chemicals, the basement is not a good option.  Basements may flood and chemicals can seep into basements even if windows are closed.

Individuals who are at serious risk of wandering at anytime, and especially in the aftermath of a disaster or extreme weather event can access Project Lifesaver.  In Sussex County, the Sheriff’s office oversees this program which provides a tracking system to allow law enforcement to quickly find individuals who have wandered away from home or caregivers.  A battery-operated bracelet is worn on the wrist or ankle and allows Sheriff’s officers to quickly track a missing individual. The only requirement is that the individual be a Sussex County resident, receive 24/7 care, and is willing to wear the bracelet. Usually there is an equipment and maintenance fee, but right now all fees are being waived.

An enrollment package for Project Lifesaver can be downloaded on the Sheriff’s Office website and filled out online or mailed.  Once the paperwork is processed, the program administrator will meet with the individual and family/caregiver to install the bracelet and provide instructions.

To help you formulate your plan for weathering an emergency or disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a detailed list on their website for planning for emergencies and for building preparedness kits specific to particular disabilities such as mobility issues, behavioral issues, etc.  They also offer videos about making plans and building kits.

Many other websites offer a wide range of information about preparing for emergencies for individuals with disabilities.  You may want to check some of them out:

The lives of individuals with developmental disabilities are filled with challenges on a day to day basis.  When the additional challenge of a weather-related threat or emergency adds to the demands of getting through each day, being prepared can reduce some of the stress and uncertainty inherent in facing an unusual event.  Taking a few minutes to organize your emergency preparedness plan will provide you with the tools and resources you’ll need to protect and care for your loved one with special needs.