Disaster Readiness for Artists with Disabilities

The biggest mistake people make in preparing a personal disaster plan is not getting around to it at all. No matter what a person’s age or physical limitations, everyone should prepare themselves and their studio for potential emergencies.

For people with disabilities or any physical impairment, preparedness is particularly important. As you develop your plan, ask yourself, "What if . . .?" Taking into account your circumstances and personal needs, try to consider all the scenarios that might occur, so you can best prepare yourself.


How to Prepare: Five Steps for Getting Ready

1. Do an assessment.

  • Identify potential disasters in your community and region — and familiarize yourself with local response networks.

  • For example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, contact your local fire department. Introduce yourself and tell them what you would need in an emergency situation.

  • Consider what types of support you would need in an emergency. Compile a contact list of emergency responders, with phone numbers.

2. Make a disaster plan

  • You may be on your own for at least three days after a disaster. Prepare for disruptions in phone, power and transportation services.

  • Identify your emergency information sources: radio, TV and NOAA Weather Radio. Set your NOAA weather radio to alert you with either an audible alarm, vibration alert, or visual strobe. Learn about devices like PDAs (personal digital assistants), text radio, and pagers that can give you information in an emergency.

  • Plan to have available and handy any specialized equipment or assistive devices that you use —or would need in the absence of professional assistance.

  • Consider any special transportation needs you may have, should you need to evacuate your studio. Be in the habit of keeping walking aids nearby.

  • Identify two escape routes for every room.

  • Identify a safe meeting place outside the area.

  •  Review, practice and update your plan at least twice a year.

3. Identify and set up your personal support network, including a Disaster Buddy.

  • Compile a list of people nearby who can and will help you before, during, and after a disaster. Include friends, family, and co-workers on the list.

  • Develop a communication plan with these folks.

  • Make sure that all helpers are familiar with your needs. They should know how to operate any special equipment you require, and how to provide any specialized help you may need. Give them a copy of your emergency list (see #5), the location of your emergency supply kit, and spare keys to your studio and home.

  • In addition to your personal support network, check with your neighbors to arrange for someone to check on you (when that’s safe to do) during an emergency. But don’t depend upon this as your only line of support.

4. Assemble your emergency supply kit (labeled with your name and address):
Your kit should include:

  • Battery-operated or solar/crank flashlight, radio, extra batteries.

  • Extra supplies of prescription medication, with a cooler on the ready if refrigeration is necessary, and a copy of dosage instructions.

  • Extra eyeglasses, hearing aid batteries, wheelchair batteries (charging may not be an option; keep in mind, though, that your outside mobility may also be limited), oxygen (if you use it), other items you use that are "consumable" and which you would need a supply of, should you be cut off from support for a few days.

  • Medical equipment and assistive devices: oxygen, portable masks, respirators, etc.

  • White distress flag, whistle, flashlights and glow sticks.

  • One-week supply of non-perishable foods that meet your specific dietary needs. and a manual can opener.

  • Cash, checkbook, credit cards, and ATM card.

  • Important documents: photo ID, birth certificate, proof of address, and insurance policies: medical, homeowner’s, and business.

  • Heavy gloves for wheelchair users.

  • Special supplies for service animals, including food and ID tags.

5. Make an emergency list.
Create and post a list — on paper, audiotape, and electronically — of relatives and medical professionals who should be contacted if and when you need support, along with other important data (see below). Place this both in your wallet and in at least two other conspicuous locations. Share it with the people in your personal support network. 

Your emergency list should include:

  • Doctors’ contact information,

  • Personal support network contact list,

  • Names of medications, with dosage and frequency instructions,

  • Detailed instructions on specialized help you need,

  • Service provider contact information,

  • Equipment name and specs, with serial number and supplier contact information,

  • Local emergency services numbers for ambulance and local Red Cross Chapter,

  • Phone number for nearest relative, local contact, and out-of-state contact,

  • Insurance agent and policy number(s).

Planning for a Safe Exit: What to Do if You Need to Evacuate

The decision to evacuate is one you must make as early as possible. If you have any doubts about your ability to care for yourself for a period of several days without outside assistance, then evacuate early.

  • If you’re ordered to leave, then do. Take your emergency supply kit, personal support network list, and emergency list with you.

  • Lock your studio (and home).

  • Keep white distress flags, whistles and beepers close at hand.

  • Use the travel routes specified by local officials, or special assistance they provide. Don't take any shortcuts — they may be unsafe. If you use a wheelchair, be sure to have protective gloves and a spare battery.

  • Notify shelter authorities of any need you may have. Remember that shelters are designed to be a temporary, safe haven. You will need to bring with you whatever personal supplies you might need. Find out in advance which shelters have accessible accommodations.

Before you go — if you are sure you have enough time:

  • Shut off water, gas, and electricity if instructed to do so, and if you know how. (Gas must be turned back on by a professional.)

  • Let your Disaster Buddy or other close contacts know when you left and where you are going.

  • Make arrangements for pets. Animals other than working animals may not be allowed in public shelters.

The Getting Help booklet from the Studio Protector® Wall Guide has a section for planning for special needs. Fill in the copy from your wall guide or fill in and print the pages in the version below:


We have made the contents of the Getting Help: Emergency Contacts Pocket ProtectorTM booklet from the Studio Protector® wall guide available as a pdf for you to use, print, and post in the studio. The booklet contains lists of first responders, arts responders, and places to fill in your own emergency numbers, plan for evacuation, and and work through special needs. The fillable pdf file can be filled in, saved and printed for easy reference.

To learn more:

Department of Homeland Security: www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY and TTY 1-800-464-6161

Download “Preparing Makes Sense for People with Disabilities and Special Needs” athttp://www.ready.gov/document/preparing-makes-sense-people-disabilities-and-special-needs

Read Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs, prepared by FEMA and the Red Cross:

The helpful Emergency Readiness Wheel for People with Disabilities is available through  EAD & Associates, LLC, Emergency Management & Special Needs Consultants: www.eadassociates.com

National Fire Protection Association: www.nfpa.org's
Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities has a handy checklist that can also be downloaded as a Microsoft Word document. To personalize the form, download it, then copy and rename the file for each individual for whom an evacuation plan is needed. The file name will print in the footer of each page, so use short, meaningful file names — for example, MaryEvacPlan.doc.

June Isaacson Kailes, disability policy consultant:
Great source for emergency planning for individuals with disabilities