Do You Have an Emergency Plan for Your Child With Special Needs?

September 10 was the peak day of hurricane season. When it’s sunny and dry, it’s hard to remember that a life-changing disaster could be just a few days away. You’d think after enduring and living through the big storms we’ve lived through, we’d remember and be prepared. But statistics tell us that less than half of American families are adequately prepared for disasters. I previously shared with you some information on having an ICE card and how to prepare one. The feedback I got was fantastic. It’s so easy and so necessary (and, honestly, kids think it’s fun to do). Now we are on to step 2.

We are approaching the anniversary of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, the second most destructive storm (first is Katrina) in our history. I know here in the mid-Atlantic, we got a bit complacent with these kinds of things, didn’t we? We saw bad storms in the south, empathized with them but never thought it could happen here. And it did. Katrina was the catalyst for Save the Children to become a leader in helping American families prepare for disasters.

Because this storm hit such a densely populated area, we learned a lot from it, like how unprepared we are for such storms! Do you have a plan for your family? If something hit your home in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, what is your reunification plan? Does your school have a plan? Have you asked? For a moment, when I picture my defenseless, non-verbal 10-year-old lost in the middle of a disaster….my stomach tightens and my pulse races. What would we do? We recently honored the 15th anniversary of September 11. If that happened today, right here, right near you….are you ready?

Save the Children is trying to get the word out to families – have a plan. And they have the resources for you.

I’m not going to rant and rave about the importance of one or tell sad stories of some children who could not find their parents in Sandy’s aftermath. I’m just asking one thing this week – make a plan. Here are the resources you need.

Planning how you will communicate with parents will greatly facilitate the reunification process. Families expect to be quickly notified when an emergency happens, but effective communication should also happen before and after an emergency. First, share information about your program’s emergency plan. Second, routinely update parent/guardian contact numbers. Third, plan how you will alert parents/guardians in an actual emergency. Because telephone service could be disrupted during an emergency, prepare a back-up plan, perhaps asking a local radio or television station to broadcast your program’s emergency status.

Become familiar with the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System and the National Emergency Child Locator Center and the American Red Cross systems which have been developed to help reunite families who are separated during disaster.

As a special needs parent, we have extra responsibilities, depending on our child’s disability. You should notify your state and local agencies if your child is a high-priority rescue. You can call them and ask, but some things that would make your child high priority would be needing oxygen or electricity for equipment or frequent medication that is life-saving (seizures, diabetes). I’ll be doing some videos when I visit my local fire station to talk about my son. I hope you’ll tune in.

What disaster survivors say is their one regret about their emergency plan

I watched some interesting videos and got great information last month while visiting the Save the Children offices in DC. They went over some advice from people who had survived disasters and asked them, “In the aftermath, what is the one thing you wish you had done?”

All of them said they wish they had a plan and their paperwork. So everything that is important to you – birth certificates, passports, a list of all your insurance carriers and policy numbers – put it all in a fireproof and waterproof box in a place ready to grab in an emergency.

Wrapping up….this is your task for this week. Hopefully you’ve already done your ICE card.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.

Categories: MomSpeak