Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are You Prepared?

Disaster can strike at any time.

Nobody likes to think about a disaster, or sudden emergency. It's scary, and it makes us very uncomfortable. We think that it will never happen to us, and thankfully, most times we are right. Still, the chance always exists that at some point we will experience a fire, a severe storm, or an extended power outage. For an able-bodied person, this can be an inconvenience. For a disabled person, this can pose a serious risk to our health and safety, or perhaps even our lives.

This week's post is not meant to frighten you. What follows are a few possible scenarios, and how you can prepare for them. Obviously I can't foresee every possible circumstance, so keep that in mind as you read, and make adjustments as necessary. Ready? Let's get prepared!

Fire. Perhaps one of the more common types of emergency, it's the one we certainly dread the most.

We're sleeping soundly in our warm comfy bed when suddenly an annoying beeping sound rouses us from our slumber. As wakefulness hits, we realize it's the smoke detector! (You do have working smoke detectors in your home, right? You should have at least one on each floor of your home, and replace the batteries with fresh ones at least once a year.)

You reach the bedroom door... but wait. If it's closed, always press your hand against the wood or door knob first. If it's hot, don't open it - fire is likely on the other side. If the door it still cool to the touch, or already open, proceed with caution toward the nearest exit.

A word on exits: Always try to have at least two viable exits from the house, and if possible, each bedroom. While this may be impossible in every circumstance, it's a good thing to plan for anyway. If fire is blocking the front doorway, you need to get out the back. If that's not possible, you should be prepared to break out a window. While you may not be able to climb out through a window by yourself, the presence of a broken window can alert fire or rescue personnel that you are trapped in the house. A small hammer kept near the window can be a real life saver.

While fire is scary, and hot, the most common deaths in a fire are caused by smoke inhalation. If the house is already in flames, it is likely that it will also be filled with heavy black smoke, which can render you unconscious in moments. Two things can help here. One is to soak a towel in water, and drape it over your head. This can keep much of the smoke out while you head for the nearest exit. The other is keeping as close to the ground as possible. Smoke is hot, and collects near the ceiling, leaving a small gap of cooler air near to the floor. If you can, crawl to the exit. This will take longer, but will also buy you extra time to make your escape.

Finally, if you have time to call 9-1-1 before you must exit (but don't waste time making that call if it delays you too much) be sure to mention that you are handicapped, and may have trouble getting to safety. This will alert first responders to look for you immediately upon their arrival.

Storms & Power Failures. These two often go hand-in-hand. A severe thunderstorm, or a tornado, moves through the area. Each has its own risks, but in both cases it's possible that downed power lines could leave you isolated in your now darkened home... perhaps for days. Do you have a plan for surviving without power for an extended period?

The consequences are many. No electricity means no way to charge your electric wheelchair. It may also mean no way to charge a cell phone, and no way to prepare a meal if you use a microwave. In winter, it would mean no heat, and in summer, no air conditioning. It might even represent a threat to your life if you use a mechanical device to aid your breathing, for example. In this final circumstance, it is imperative that you call 9-1-1 at once to alert them to your situation. Also, before disaster strikes you should also notify your local utility providers so that they can keep your name and address on their priority reconnection list.

So what about tornados? Obviously if you're in your home you should stay there. A special exception is a mobile home, but I don't need to educate you about that one. Okay, so where do you go if the alert sirens are blaring? The first choice should always be your basement, but often this is not an option for persons in a wheelchair. In that case, the main floor will have to do. Pick a room with as few windows as possible, or a hallway near the center of the house. Then just wait it out. A tornado moves very quickly, and most pass through a town in a matter of only 10-20 minutes. Hopefully this will never happen to you, but knowing where to go and what to do ahead of time can mean the difference between a good outcome and a bad one. Plan ahead.

I could go on quite a bit on this subject, but I think I've made my point. Everyone should have a disaster plan, of course, but it's especially important for the disabled. I hope you will think about this over the course of the next few days, and then act. It could save your life, or the lives of those you love.

Until next time, be safe.

Note: We have a wonderful e-book (in universal PDF format) on disaster preparedness for the disabled in our Buckeye Barrier Busters Library, free for you to download and consult. Please click on this link to go directly to the page, or just visit, and click on the Library Link. Thanks to FEMA and the American Red Cross for making this publication available to our community.

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