Preparedness for those with Special Needs

 Preparedness for those with Special Needs

During todays guide, we are going to be taking a look at developing a plan and an emergency kit for those with special needs.

Create a Support Network

Your support network is a group of people that you trust and can rely on to help you during an emergency. These should know where your emergency kit is located, understand how any special equipment that you need works, and at least one of them having a key to your home. Work with these to develop a plan that meets your specific needs and practice it with them.

Emergency Kit

During any emergency, there are certain supplies that you need. These should allow you to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. From the list below, you should add and take away items according to your specific needs.

  • Water – at least two litres of water per person per day
  • Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods
  • Manual can-opener
  • Wind-up or battery-powered flashlight (and extra batteries)
  • Wind-up or battery-powered radio (and extra batteries)
  • First aid kit
  • Special items such as prescription medications, MedicAlert® bracelet or identification
  • Cash in smaller bills and change
  • Special items according to your needs (i.e., prescription medication, infant formula, special equipment, pet food and water, etc)
  • A copy of your emergency plan and contact information
  • Candles and matches or lighter
  • Change of clothing and footwear for each household member
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each household member
  • Toiletries, hand sanitizer, utensils
  • Garbage bags for personal sanitation
  • Toilet paper
  • Minimum of a week’s supply of prescription medications
  • Household chlorine bleach or water purifying tablets
  • Basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dust mask, pocket knife)
  • Small fuel-operated stove and fuel
  • A whistle
  • Detailed list of all special needs items, in the event that they need to be replaced

Service Animal Emergency Kit

This checklist identifies the basic items you should prepare to keep your service animal comfortable during an emergency. Make sure the kit is easy to carry in case of a home evacuation.

  • Minimum 72-hour supply of bottled water and pet food
  • Portable water and food bowls
  • Paper towels and manual can opener
  • Medications with a list identifying medical condition, dosage, frequency and contact information of prescribing veterinarian
  • Medical records including vaccinations
  • Leash and collar
  • Blanket and toy
  • Plastic bags
  • Bandages (a dog’s paws could get cut on rough terrain)
  • Up-to-date ID tag with your phone number and the name/phone number of your veterinarian (a microchip is also recommended)
  • Recent photo of your service animal in case they get separated from you
  • Name of the animal’s training centre and qualifying number (for identification purposes)
  • Copy of licence (if required)

Assisting Those with Special Needs

  • Ask if the person wants your help, and how you may best assist them.
  • If someone refuses your help, wait for first responders to arrive, unless it is a matter of life or death.
  • Do not touch the person, their service animal or equipment without their permission, unless it is a matter of life or death.
  • Follow instructions posted on special needs equipment.
  • You may be asked to use latex-free gloves to reduce the spread of viral infection or to prevent an allergic reaction to latex.
  • Ask the person if areas of their body have reduced sensation and if they want you to check those areas for injuries.
  • Do not try to move someone unless you are trained in proper techniques.
  • If a person is unconscious or unresponsive do not administer any liquids or food.
  • If the person has a service animal, it is the animal owner’s responsibility to assess whether or not it is safe for the animal to work through the emergency situation.
  • To make this decision, the service animal owner will need information as to the nature of the hazards they are expected to face and any changes to the physical environment.
  • If providing sighted assistance, the first responder or caregiver should confirm that the service animal is then not working, and is therefore off duty.


Mobility limitations may make it difficult for a person to use stairs or to move quickly over long distances. Limitations may include reliance on mobility equipment such as a wheelchair, walker, crutches or a walking cane. People with a heart condition or respiratory difficulties may also have limited mobility.

Emergency plan:

  • If you use a wheelchair or scooter, request that an emergency evacuation chair be stored near a stairwell on the same floor where you work or live, so that your network can readily access it to help you evacuate. The person with the disability should be involved in the selection of the evacuation chair.
  • People who require the use of an evacuation chair should designate a primary and backup contact to assist them in the event of an evacuation. Create an evacuation plan in collaboration with the building manager and contact persons, and practice using the chair with them.
  • In your personal assessment checklist, identify areas of your body that have reduced sensation so that these areas can be checked for injuries after an emergency, if you cannot do so yourself.
  • Check with your local municipal office to find out if emergency shelters in your area are wheelchair accessible.

Recommended additional items checklist:

  • Tire patch kit
  • Can of seal-in-air product (to repair flat tires on your wheelchair or scooter)
  • Supply of inner tubes
  • Pair of heavy gloves (to protect your hands while wheeling over glass or other sharp debris)
  • Latex-free gloves (for anyone providing personal care to you)
  • Spare deep-cycle battery for a motorized wheelchair or scooter
  • A lightweight, manual wheelchair as a backup to a motorized wheelchair (if feasible)
  • Spare catheters (if applicable)
  • Your power outage backup plan

Assisting a person with a mobility disability:

  • If possible, use latex-free gloves when providing personal care.
  • Try to ensure that the person’s wheelchair is transported with the person.
  • If this is not possible, employ other evacuation techniques as appropriate, such as use of the evacuation chair, shelter-in-place (if instructed to do so), or lifts and carries by trained personnel.
  • Do not push or pull a person’s wheelchair without their permission, unless it is a matter of life or death.


The way that emergency warnings are issued in an emergency is critical to the understanding of instructions and the subsequent response and safety of those with hearing loss.

Your emergency plan:

  • Communicate your hearing loss by moving your lips without making a sound, pointing to your ear, using a gesture, or if applicable, pointing to your hearing aid.
  • Keep a pencil and paper handy for written communication.
  • Obtain a pager that is connected to an emergency paging system at your workplace and/or your residence.
  • Install a smoke detection system that includes flashing strobe lights or vibrators to get your attention if the alarms sound.
  • Test smoke alarms monthly by pushing the test button.
  • Replace batteries every six months or whenever there is a low battery signal.

Recommended additional items checklist:

  • Writing pads and pencils for communication
  • Flashlight, whistle or personal alarm
  • Pre-printed phrases you would use during an emergency, such as “I use American Sign Language” or “If you make announcements, I will need to have them written simply or signed”.
  • Assistive equipment according to your needs (i.e., hearing aid, personal amplifier, etc.)
  • Portable visual notification devices to know if someone is knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, or calling on the telephone
  • Extra batteries for assistive devices
  • A CommuniCard™ (produced by The Canadian Hearing Society) that explains your hearing loss and identifies how first responders can communicate with you during an emergency

Assisting a person with a hearing impairment:

  • Get the person’s attention via a visual cue or a gentle touch on their arm. Do not approach the person from behind.
  • Face the person, make eye contact when speaking to them as they may rely on lip reading and communicate in close proximity.
  • Speak clearly and naturally. Do not shout or speak unnaturally slowly.
  • Try to rephrase, rather than repeating yourself.
  • Use gestures to help illustrate your meaning.
  • If there is time, it may be helpful to write a message.
  • Hearing aids amplify sounds and can create a physical shock to the user, so do not make loud noises.
  • Note that some people may be deaf-blind.


A person who is blind or has reduced vision may have difficulty reading signs or moving through unfamiliar environments during an emergency. They may feel lost and/or dependent on others for guidance.

Your emergency plan:

  • Have a longer white cane available to readily manoeuvre around obstacles (there may be debris on the floor or furniture may have shifted).
  • Identify all emergency supplies in advance with fluorescent tape, large print or Braille text, such as gas, water and electric shutoff valves.
  • Familiarize yourself in advance with all escape routes and locations of emergency doors/exits on each floor of any building where you work, live and visit.

Recommended additional items checklist:

  • Extra white cane, preferably longer in length
  • Talking or Braille clock
  • Large print timepiece with extra batteries
  • Extra vision aids such as an electronic travel aid, monocular, binocular or magnifier
  • Extra pair of prescription glasses (if applicable)
  • Any reading devices / assistive technology to access information or portable CCTV devices

Assisting a person with a vision disability:

  • For people who are deaf-blind, draw an “X” on their back with your finger to let them know you can help them.
  • To communicate with someone who is deaf-blind, trace letters in their hand with your finger.
  • To guide a person, keep half a step ahead, offer them your arm and walk at their pace.
  • Do not shout at a person who is blind or has reduced vision. Speak clearly and provide specific directions.
  • Provide advance warning of upcoming stairs, major obstacles or changes in direction.
  • Watch for obstacles that the person could walk into.
  • Never grab a person with vision loss, unless it is a matter of life or death.
  • Do not assume that the person cannot see you.
  • Avoid the term “over there”; describe positions such as, “to your right / left / straight ahead / behind you”, or by using the clock face positions (i.e., the exit is at 12 o’clock).
  • If the person has a service animal on duty, ask them where you should walk to avoid distracting the animal. Do not separate the service animal from its owner.

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Source: Get Prepared

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