Follow these steps to help you prepare for an emergency or disaster with your child’s special health care needs or disability in mind.
Emergency Preparedness for Children with Special Needs
Create a Plan
The first step to creating an emergency plan is to sit down and talk with other parents and/or caregivers in your family about different types of emergencies, how to prepare for them, and brainstorm ideas of how to care for your child with special needs during an emergency.
1. Assess Your Situation
Reflect and plan for your child’s needs if there was:
- No water, electricity, Wi-Fi, cell service, heat, air conditioning, or refrigeration
- No local access to prescription refills or health products
- Separation from family members
- Inability to leave your home or need for evacuation
- Limited health care access and emergency rescue services
- A lack of transportation
2. Start Planning
- Plan for backup sources of heat, refrigeration, and electricity.
- You can use a Red Cross shelter for storing medicine, charging equipment and getting meals. You do not have to be staying in a shelter to use its resources.
- If your child depends on dialysis or other life sustaining treatment, know the location of more than one facility: find out the facility’s plans for emergencies and how your child will get treatment, medicines, etc. Get emergency contact numbers for each facility.
- Create and practice an escape plan for your home.
- Be sure there are clear exit paths for a child who uses mobility devices or has vision loss.
- Talk to your local police and fire departments to see if they have emergency services or plans for people with special needs. Smart 911 is a free service that allows families to create a safety profile for their household that includes any information they want 9-1-1 to have in the event of an emergency.
- Get a medical alert and/or identification bracelet for your child. Some retailers, like Amazon, sell decals that you can put on your home or car to alert responders that there is a child with special needs inside.
- Ask for the emergency plan at your child’s school or childcare. Plan with them how your child will get the care they need in an emergency.
3. Create a Support Network
Create a network of family, neighbors or friends that can help you and your child.
- Tell them about your child’s special needs and share your emergency plan and where your emergency supplies are stored.
- Give a trusted member of your network a key to your home.
- Agree upon a system with your network to signal for help if phones, electricity and internet/networks are not working.
- Show others how to handle your child’s wheelchair or other equipment.
Pack an Emergency Supply Kit
An emergency kit has all the things you and your family will need during an emergency. For more information on supplies to add to your kit, visit the CDC.
Store items in a large plastic bin or box.
- Print out an emergency kit checklist or write down the items on a list as you add them into your box.
- Keep an updated copy of your checklist inside your bin or box.
General Information and Supplies:
For more general items to include in your kit visit Disaster Supplies Kit from Seattle Children’s.
- Water, 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days
- Food, at least a 3-day supply of food that keeps at room temperature for a long time (non-perishable) and a manual can opener
- A battery-powered or hand-crank radio or television and extra batteries
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- Your first aid kit and manual
- A whistle to signal for help
- Dust masks to help filter bad air
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to make a shelter
- Moist towelettes, soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, feminine products, garbage bags, plastic ties and other toiletries and hygiene products
- A wrench or pliers to turn off water and gas lines
- Local maps
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Extra clothing, heavy-soled shoes, gloves and blankets
Special Needs Information and Supplies:
In addition to supplies needed for a general emergency kit, you may need to add several things to the kit for your child with special needs.
- A current copy of your child’s Care Plan, including the In Case of Emergency Form.
- Current medical information and records stored on your phone or hard copy (keep one paper copy in a waterproof bag).
- Batteries for hearing aids and communication devices.
- Special dietary foods and supplies.
- Items that calm or entertain your child such as a copy of their favorite book, favorite food or a toy they enjoy.
- Identification to be carried by each child in case your family gets separated.
- A generator for backup power support (due to deadly fumes, never use a generator indoors). Sometimes medical insurance programs will provide resources for generators when a child has a consistent need for breathing (respiratory) support.
- An AC adaptor for your car to charge small electrical equipment such as a nebulizer.
- Battery powered versions of medical equipment your child uses.
- Manual wheelchair or other non-electric equipment.
- Backup chargers for cell phones. This could include a hand-cranked USB cell phone emergency charger, a solar charger, or a battery pack. Some weather radios have a built in hand crank charger.
- Backup chargers for a laptop or tablet could include a 12V USB adapter that plugs into a car, an inverter, or a battery jump pack with a USB port.
Medical Supplies and Medicines:
- Talk with your child’s doctor about how to get an emergency supply of medicines. If your child takes medicine given by a clinic or hospital, talk with them about how to plan for a stoppage due to a disaster.
- Ask your pharmacist how long the medicine can last and how to store the medicines.
- Keep a two-week supply of medical care items such as needles (in a locked or sealed place), nasal cannulas, bandages, etc.
- Keep a cooler and chemical ice packs for storing medicines that must be kept cold.
- Keep prescription information in your wallet, on your phone, in your survival kit and in your car. Include the name, location and phone number of an out of town pharmacy.
Other Helpful Tips:
- Pack smaller “to go” kits for use in an evacuation. Store them in multiple places such as your car, at work and at school.
- Update supplies yearly, replace water every 6 months, and update emergency contact and medical forms as needed.
- If you can’t contact your doctor or pharmacy in a disaster, ask for help from emergency responders or staff at emergency shelters or service centers. You can get help in getting medicine from a Red Cross shelter or by dialing 2-1-1 to get connected with community resources statewide.
Emergency Preparedness Websites
Special Needs Information
- Keeping Children with Disabilities Safe in Emergencies from CDC.
- Disasters and Emergencies: Keeping Children and Youth Safe from Family Voices.
- Emergency Preparedness for Individuals with Disabilities from Ready.gov.
General Emergency Preparedness Information
- Visit the American Red Cross Get Help page for resources before, during, and after an emergency or disaster. You can also download the American Red Cross Emergency App to have the information readily available on your cell phone.