How to Build a Disaster Plan
September is National Preparedness Month, when local, state, and federal officials collectively work to ensure citizens are prepared for the disasters likely to affect their area. Appropriate since, as I write this, there are four active named tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
As with anyone else, it’s important for blind people to ensure we are prepared to secure the safety of ourselves, our families, and, for those inclined to seek such volunteer opportunities, our neighbors.
Preparedness doesn’t have to be difficult, or even cost you a lot of money all at once.
I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned from my hours of training in basic disaster response, basic fire suppression, how to safely extricate a trapped victim from a collapsed structure, and how to perform triage and basic first aid.
Some of the first steps you want to take simply involve getting informed and making a plan.
Things you should consider include:
- What types of disasters is my community likely to experience? For example, Texas is much more likely to see the effects of tropical weather than, say, Minnesota.
- How will I receive emergency alerts and be informed about impending disasters? While FCC regulations have changed to require text to speech for emergency notification crawls on television, as with any information carried on the secondary audio channel, one’s ability to quickly and easily access this audio is dependent on several factors. Consider how you will independently receive initial notification of an emergency, such as National Weather Service Weather Radio, and how you will access that information in a form you can read, should you need to parse the details, such as NFB Newsline®’s Acuweather integration or your local government’s website. Social media is also being heavily utilized by emergency management entities and is a good place to find text-based information which will be useful to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Your local government may also offer text message alerts or “reverse 9-1-1” where you will receive a phone call with critical information.
- How will I communicate with others during a disaster? Often, local landline and wireless telephone circuits will be overloaded with calls. However, where wireless service is still functioning, because they are relatively small packets of information, text messages will frequently stand a better chance of getting through when voice circuits are busy. Similarly, it is frequently easier to connect a call to an out-of-area contact than a local phone. As part of your planning, your family should designate an out-of-state contact whom everyone will check in with. This person can pass information back and forth as to the whereabouts and status of other household members. Even if you live alone, someone out-of-state will want to know you are safe. I would also be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for amateur radio which, after passing a relatively simple test and purchasing some equipment, can allow you to stay in contact with others independent of phone service. Think of getting your licenses as a fun family activity.
- How will I evacuate if necessary? Many blind people don’t have access to their own vehicles. Find out what your community’s options are for accessible transportation, make a plan with friends or family, or identify other ways to leave the area or make it safely to a shelter should an evacuation be ordered.
As you answer these questions, and build your disaster plan, you also want to give consideration to putting together a disaster supply kit. This kit should include supplies for yourself and your family to enable you to sustain yourselves without assistance for three days. You will want food (that can be prepared without electricity or gas), water, medications and other items to address any medical needs, first aid supplies, some basic tools, cash (a couple hundred dollars is recommended), and comfort items for children or pets. Make sure to include supplies for your guide dog too.
A great, and budget-friendly, way to put together a disaster kit is by using a checklist like the Weekly Steps for Emergency Preparedness provided by the Knox County Health Department. This spreads the things you need to buy and learn out over twenty-four weeks.
By taking a few small steps now, you can ensure that you are prepared for the disasters you may encounter in your community in the future. For more information, please visit the US Department of Homeland Security’s preparedness page at ready.gov or contact your local office of emergency management.