Disaster Preparedness For Those With Special Needs

If you have special needs or are caring for someone with special needs, it is good to think about preparing for a hurricane or other disaster well in advance.

  • Do you or someone you take care of require special medication in times of turmoil?
  • How about oxygen, tube feeding, dialysis, or other life sustaining equipment?
  • Will you need a wheelchair, walker, a special bed, or special toilet items?
  • If you have to evacuate, will you need transportation?
  • Will you require a special needs shelter?

Think about what your special needs will be should you be involved in a disaster.

Disasters can be hurricanes, floods, chemical accidents, acts of terrorism, or other catastrophes. Here are some of the problems they can cause for you:

  • require you or the person you care for to vacate your home or living quarters.
  • prevent you from obtaining the water, food, and medication you need.
  • prevent you from obtaining the electrical power you require for dialysis or oxygen.
  • interfere with other home health care you may require.
  • if you have an illness such as heart disease, increase episodes of illness or cause you to need medication for stress and anxiety.

You do not need to be in a state of turmoil when disaster strikes. Calmness and confidence can be yours when you properly prepare yourself ahead of time.
The following are some things you can do now to ensure that you are better prepared should you need to evacuate:


Register With Your County Emergency Management Agency

Pinellas and Pasco County, like other counties in Florida, are required to voluntarily register people who need evacuation assistance in the event of an emergency such as a hurricane. In an evacuation, appropriate vehicles will be sent to transport pre-registered residents to a public shelter, Special Needs Unit, or hospital. Transportation will not be provided to private destinations such as a relative’s home.**

Make sure you explain your special needs clearly when registering, since dialysis, respirators, etc. may require very special accommodations while oxygen may be offered at several Special Needs Shelters. If your special needs require that you go to a hospital, consult with your physician about the need for a signed letter from him/her authorizing pre-admission. When you arrive at the hospital, staff will contact your physician for admission authorization.

NOTE: Medicare will only pay for hospitalization claims that are deemed medically necessary and therefore arrangements must be made in advance.

How To Register

  • Pinellas County, Florida: Call Pinellas County Emergency Management, 727-464-3800, or your local fire department. For more local disaster information online (including the Pinellas County Surviving the Storm Guide), go to Pinellas County Emergency Management.
  • Other Florida Counties: Every county has a Special Needs Registry. The telephone numbers of these offices are listed in the Elder Update. (English/Spanish). This guide contains other valuable information about disasters of many types, what to put in a Disaster Supply Kit if not evacuating, and more. Another resource for Florida residents is the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which includes a section on Family Disaster Preparedness.


Make a Disaster Preparedness Notebook

Being prepared does not end with registration for evacuation assistance. You need to do more to feel confident that you have everything that you will need to take with you. Decide what you will need to take and what you will need to do before you evacuate. Instead of just making a couple of lists, consider making a Disaster Preparedness Notebook. A 3-ring binder works well because you can add insurance papers, etc. For pages of your notebook, use ruled paper, magnetic photo pages, envelopes, etc. Be sure to label the notebook and keep it in a place where you can find it quickly.

1. Inside the front cover, tape a sheet of paper with your name, address, phone number, and social security number. On this same sheet, also list the following:

  • The evacuation zone you are in: A, B, C, D, E, or none (see telephone book or your current County Hurricane Guide for information).
  • All other names and addresses you might need quickly:
    1. Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of family and friends you will notify with your location if you have to evacuate.
    2. Your doctor’s name and telephone number.
    3. Name, address and telephone number of the person such as a veterinarian or friend with whom you have made prior arrangements to care for your pet when you have to evacuate. Do not plan to leave pets at home or expect to take them with you to a shelter.

2. At the front of the notebook, put a Last Minute Checklist of things you need to do when you first hear that a hurricane is headed for Florida or that another type of disaster might affect your area. Here is an example of a Last Minute Checklist:

  • Get prescriptions filled.
  • Get cash.
  • Take care of pets. – get medical records, carrier, leash, etc. and take with your pet to private home or boarding location.
  • Buy extra batteries for portable radio and flashlight.
  • Finish assembling your Disaster Supplies Kit (see below).
  • Make sure you have your Medicare and other insurance cards, keys, etc.
  • Turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Bring outdoor possessions in or tie down securely.
  • Move valuables you are not taking with you to the safest location in the home away from windows and possible rising water.
  • Have someone help cover windows and doors if this is possible.

3. Your Disaster Preparedness Notebook should also contain:

  • Your social security card(s), Medicare card(s) – or put a reminder to add when reviewing your Last Minute Checklist.
  • Prescriptions
  • Wills
  • Insurance papers and name, address and telephone number of your insurance agent
  • Medical records
  • Your credit card numbers
  • Name(s) of your bank(s) and account numbers
  • Etc.

4. You can even include photographs or videotapes of your household furnishings. Use different size envelopes or plastic zipper bags to accommodate these items and punch with 3 holes to fit in your binder. Include a few personal photographs, also.

5. Put your completed notebook in a safe yet easily accessible place so that you can quickly find it. When disaster threatens, you need only refer to the inside cover and first page of your notebook to remind you of what you have to do. Equally important, you will have copies of all important papers, etc. in one place, ready to pack in your Disaster Supplies Kit.

Disaster Supplies Kit

When you evacuate you will need to take provisions with you to make your temporary stay more comfortable. The following is a list of suggested items that you may need. Take enough medicines, cash, etc. for two weeks:

  • Prescription medicines with dosage, time to take, and allergy information
  • List of all prescriptions and style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers
  • Over-the counter medicines such as aspirin, antacid, etc.
  • Cash
  • Personal hygiene items such as soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloths, towels, etc.
  • Special dietary foods, if needed
  • Personal aids, such as eyeglasses, dentures, hearing aids with extra batteries, prosthetic devices, canes, etc.
  • Identification, valuable papers, policies and photographs in waterproof containers such as a plastic zipper bags (see Disaster Preparedness Notebook above)
  • Disaster Preparedness Notebook (see above, and remember to get Medicare card, etc. and some family photographs if not in Notebook).
  • Books, magazines, cards, etc.
  • Battery operated portable radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries for radio and flashlight
  • Change of clothing
  • Collapsible lawn chair, blanket or sleeping bag

Have this Disaster Supplies Kit (tote size) assembled and ready to go. Since evacuation vehicles have to accommodate others, it is important that you only bring a small bag/tote and sleeping items that can be easily carried.


When You Return Home

  • Re-enter your home with caution.
  • Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry the interior.
  • Beware of snakes, insects, and other animals.
  • Be careful with fire. Do not strike match or use any open flames until certain there are no gas leaks.
  • Report broken water, electric, gas, and sewer lines.
  • If you had been receiving home health care before evacuating, immediately notify the agency so that care can be resumed.
  • Stay tuned to local radio or television (battery operated if electricity is out) for information and advice about emergency medical, food, housing, and other assistance.


Other Considerations

If you live in a non-evacuation zone or are planning to evacuate to the home of a relative or friend in a non-evacuation zone, check with your suppliers and the power company about whether there are emergency plans for oxygen, respirators, etc. Also talk to your home health agency if you have one or to your doctor. Finally, consider whether you will be able to take care of your special needs in the home’s Safe Room (usually the home’s most interior and windowless room) or whether windows and doors are so well protected that you will feel safe in another room.

If you live in Florida and decide that a private home cannot meet your special needs, put your name on your county’s Special Needs Registry in advance (see Register With Your County Emergency Management Agency above). Other states may have similar programs.


More Resources

  • The Four Stages of Caregiving, Stage One, section 6. Update your care recipient’s disaster plan: things to think about if you are helping to care for someone who becomes too frail to manage covering windows and making other pre-disaster preparations.
  • American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter: provides information and checklists for individuals with special needs and how to be prepared for disasters. Go to Disaster Services and click on “Hurricane Season” to find information specific to persons with special needs.