Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 24 (Part 2):

Preparing for disasters: Information for people with disabilities, part 2

This transcript is part 2 of an interview with Danielle Bailey, MPH, a research assistant for the Oregon Office on Disability and Health. Interviewed by Teddi Dineley Johnson, APHA.

Many disabled people rely on equipment that requires electricity to operate such as wheelchairs and life support equipment, how can you plan ahead to accommodate power outages?
What I recommend folks to do first is to register with your local utility company. Many power utility companies may keep a list of names of people dependant on powered life support systems and they can tag your meters. In some instances, they may be able to prioritize by the time length the person is able to tolerate being off life support system. However, again, never count on your power being quickly restored. Utility personnel may not be able to get to depending on the nature of the disaster.

Also, you want to think about alternate power sources. Discuss with your equipment vendor alternative power sources that can provide you with support for up to five to seven days. See if you can use a generator. If so, what type of generator? Can you possibly manually operate the equipment, can your equipment be powered from a vehicle battery, and if that’s the case do you have the necessary hardware for that particular hookup? For oxygen users, check with your physician, you may be able to use what’s a called a reduced flow rate in the event of a disaster, and this is just to prolong the life of your system, and I think a really good practice to that is to record the reduce flow number on your equipment so that you or your support group can easily refer to that. I think no matter what your system, you need to remember to conduct regular backup tests for these systems. So if your power backup system relies on storing batteries, be aware of those disadvantages. Storage batteries require periodic changing even when they are unused, so if your survival strategy depends on stored batteries, a battery charging routine will have to be strictly followed. Regularly checkup backup or alternative power equipment to ensure it functions during an emergency, know the working duration of any batteries that support your system and discuss this with your power utility company, the type of backup power you plan to use and get their advice. Oftentimes, they can give you or guide you in a specific way.

Lastly, inform your personal support network let them know how to operate and safely move your equipment if necessary. I think best practice is to label your equipment (and) add instruction cards. You could even laminate those instruction cards for durability and attach them directly to the equipment.

Let’s talk about what you would do if you’re deaf and you use telecommunication relay services, what are some backup options if relay services fail?
There’s dialing 711, which is a nationwide system. And then there is CAPTEL, which is a caption telephone system. There’s also Internet-based relays through computer, text, pager, PDA systems and then video relay services through broadband.

Another backup plan is to make a list of family, friends, co-workers, personal attendants, service providers, and anybody else who can be a part of your plan. Include people both in and outside of your immediate neighborhood or community, like a relative in another state, and communicate with these people and ask them to be part of your support network. And then, ultimately, what you want to do is create a communication plan. Make sure you and your support network share contact information and alternate ways to communicate so you know that your telecommunication relay system may not work so think of other strategies. It could mean agreeing to meet an assigned place or using pager, email or any other of the technology not relying on phone lines.

Can we briefly talk about service animals? Many people with disabilities have a service dog. Can you share some tips on how to include service animals in your emergency and preparedness plans?
I think the first thing to know is that there is a difference between pets and service animals and how they’ll be treated in an emergency situation. Service animals, if well-behaved, will be allowed into emergency shelters. However, if you have a pet or a companion animal, they may not.

I think best practice for either is you need to have an updated ID and license for your pet or service animal. You want to put together an animal care plan just in case you are separated from your service animal. Do you have someone else identified to take care of your pet? Beforehand, identify emergency animal shelters and talk to your vet about this. Be prepared for your animal to behave differently. You don’t know how they’re going to react in an emergency. They may become frightened, so be sure you have a leash or harness or some way to confine them if need be. And if at all possible, be prepared to navigate the environment without them. Think about using alternative methods. You may use that service animal for stability, so think about having backup aids, like a cane or a walker. Then always as you need to prepare an emergency kit for yourself, you need to also do that for your service animal. You want to include things such as food, water, bedding. If they’re on any medications, pack them — an extra leash, toys, that type of thing. And then I think it is best practice to have an updated photo of your animal as well.

In some disasters such as earthquakes, ramps are shaken loose or separated from your home or building, how can people prepare for such obstacles?
The first thing to do is really identify all possible evacuation routes out of the building and also identify the safety zones. Safety zones are areas where if evacuation is not possible, you can go and they’re safe. Oftentimes, these are areas such as stairwells that are kind of bricked in with fireproof walls. If individuals use power chairs, I always encourage them to ensure they have a manual chair available at home, work and school. There may be the possibility that the only safe evacuation is to separate yourself from the power wheelchair. So you need to be prepared for this, and that’s why that manual chair comes in and is really important. And then you need to develop evacuation plans where you spend the most time and identify those people there who can help you if you need assistance.

Danielle, can you say something for caregivers also? If you’re a caregiver to a person with a disability or a family member who provides care, what are just some of the important things to consider in planning for their safety during emergencies?
What I think is one important thing is that emergency preparedness is not a onetime thing that you address and then you’re done. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be revisited, your plans need to be updated, and it needs to be constantly practiced. I think information is always changing, from contact phone numbers to medications to an individual’s abilities and skill levels, so as a caregiver or family member, you can share in the responsibility that the plan is maintained and continuously updated. Emergency preparedness is an ongoing process that need continuing reminder so it’s easier when you have the support of another person.

Where can people go to get more information about emergency and disaster preparedness, for people with disabilities?
I do think there’s a lot of a great resource via the Web. The (American) Red Cross, obviously, has some great resources specifically for people with disabilities…June Isaacson Kailes does a lot around emergency planning for disabilities and others with access and functional needs. She also does some work with emergency management managers and planners and disability focused organizations.

I had mentioned before, Kansas University, the research and training center there for independent living. They have a great website that lists a bunch of best practices and so forth for individuals with disabilities. And like I said before, it’s about getting local: Check with your county, your city emergency managers. If you have a center for independent living in your community, check with those resources and get local first and see what you have in your community. Then I think our office, which is the Oregon Office of Disability and Health. We have a curriculum that we created for individual preparedness, so it kind of walks you through step by step and we call that the Ready Now! Toolkit and this can be downloaded for free and it’s on our website.

And what is your website?
Our website is

Read the first half of this interview in “Preparing for disasters: Information for people with disabilities, part 1.”

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