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Wheelchair Users’ Ultimate Emergency Preparedness Guide

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 taught us a lot of lessons as a society. Everyone was used to a new life now with social distancing, wearing a mask, having limited supplies and resources due to shortages in essential items, travel bans, and negative impact on mental health. Now more than ever is the time to realize that individuals who use wheelchairs should have a plan in place in cases of emergencies. Our previous blog Preparing for Emergencies When Using a Wheelchair: Healthcare scratched the surface of the basics of how to prepare for an emergency. This blog will share some important tips to ensure that individuals who use mobility devices and all stakeholders such as health professionals, vendors, family members, and society in general, are aware of emergency preparedness for individuals who use mobility devices.

Emergency Plan

It is important to have a list of your health conditions, medications, mobility device specifications, information about exit strategies from your home, and an updated “ in case of emergency” contacts list.  It is also important to share this emergency plan with those you live with and/or people you may communicate with often, especially in case of an emergency (such as building and/or community superintendents).

Communication

If you live with other people or have a superintendent and/or landlord, it is important to inform them of your specific health needs and mobility needs ahead of time. Additionally, in cases where you live alone, it is important to communicate this information with your local emergency services and ask them for directions on who to list as your “in case of emergency” contacts.

Emergency Kit

The following is not an all-inclusive list however, there are some suggestions.  Essential items can be flashlights, blankets, medical supplies, water, non-perishable food items, batteries, a hardwired phone line, extra clothing to keep warm, readily available important documents (especially if related to your health or mobility needs), and medications. It is also important to ensure that items such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and any other hazard-related detectors are functioning and up-to-date, and not requiring a replacement. Not directly a part of a kit is your own skill set. Ensure you take courses in first aid and CPR if you can and these are available to you as these could come in use in case of emergency. Survival skills training could also help in case of emergency and perhaps after the emergency has subsided but not entirely cleared, if these are available to you you can take these.

Mobility Devices Maintenance

This suggestion would apply to wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, strollers, and any mobility device.  It is important to regularly maintain your mobility device to ensure it is in safe and functioning condition with no unaddressed issues.

Power Outages

It is important to check ahead in case there are any hydro, internet, and general upcoming power outages, so you can plan by charging your mobility and electronic devices ahead of time, and finding backup batteries and/or generators. This becomes very important during inclement weather conditions: it is important to have portable and/or generator-dependent heating and cooling devices to ensure you can get through the inclement weather conditions safely with hydro and/or power outages.

Seek Information

Sign up with assistive technology, adaptive devices, and any apps that would help inform you of any weather, emergency, health-related, and safety alerts in your region. This way you can plan ahead to stay at home and/or leave the community to go to a safer place ahead of time, and know when it is safe to go back outside when the emergency is resolved. Join groups on social media within your region and network with other individuals who use mobility devices so you can update them and/or receive updates from them in case an emergency happens in your region. 

Home Safety

You may live in a region where certain weather conditions like flash floods, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, or wind warnings may be common – you may want to find out more information on how to prepare for these specific emergencies to make your home safe (such as ensure all your water, pipes, heating, electricals, or other functioning areas are updated) and know if there are any available basements or underground areas close by to take shelter in. It would be helpful to learn how to turn on and/or turn off switches on your water, hydro, electricity, gas, and/or any other home-related utilities. 

Community Emergency Plan

At times when lots of people live in highly populated settings such as apartments, condominiums, and townhomes, it is essential to have a community emergency plan where everyone is aware of how and where to evacuate (whether it is to the street or the side of the building) and where to access a community shuttle to a shelter and/or community center closeby. If the management and/or superintendents of your area have a community emergency plan evacuation meeting to prepare ahead of time, it would be beneficial to participate in these practice evacuation plans to ensure your safety needs are being met and speak up if these safety needs are not being met. 

Advocacy

Communicate with local authorities,  emergency Services,  social service-related organizations,  advocacy groups for individuals who use wheelchairs,  and any other groups that may help plan ahead and respond appropriately in case of an emergency for individuals with wheelchairs.

Important Documents

Store important documents such as birth certificates, social insurance information, health cards, driver’s licenses, medical records, marriage certificates, wills, and/or other identity/health-related documentation kept safe in a bank locker, or a fireproof, theft-resistant, water-resistant, and other external element resistant case. This would increase the likelihood of being able to take these documents with you in case of an upcoming emergency and/or the likelihood of recovering these documents if they were stored safely and were left behind at home.

References