Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Emergency Preparedness

In emergencies, such as natural disasters, people with SCI may have additional needs to consider. So, make a plan for your own safety. Preparing in advance can help you better cope with emergencies when they happen and lessen the impact they have on your life. 

Woman assisting man in wheelchair to research and make list.

Know your risks and assess your needs

Start by learning about the kinds of emergencies that might affect you. This can include things specific to where you live, such as floods, earthquakes, tornados, and snowstorms. Also think about fires and power outages that could happen at any time. Consider how each type of emergency could affect your normal routine. Then make a list of your needs. Some questions to consider include:

  • Do you live alone or with others?

  • Does someone help you with your daily routine and activities? Will this person likely be with you in an emergency?

  • Do you use equipment, such as a wheelchair, for mobility? Will you still have access to this equipment in an emergency?

  • Do you have medical supplies that you use daily?

  • Are there medications or other treatments that you need daily?

For each question, you need to come up with an answer and have an option for what you’ll do instead in an emergency.

Make a plan for your safety

  • If you know that you’ll likely need help in an emergency, create a support network of people to assist you in advance. Include family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers in your network. Discuss with them ahead of time the kind of help you’ll need.

  • Keep a list of emergency contact numbers in your wallet or near your phone. Know how to contact members of your support network or meet up with them if you’re separated in an emergency.

  • Contact your local emergency services department. Find out if they keep a list of people who have disabilities or special needs. Adding yourself to this list alerts emergency relief workers that you may need additional help in an emergency. Also contact your electricity company. They may have a priority list for people who need power restored quickly in an emergency.

  • Know the location of the nearest emergency shelters. Find out in advance if they are wheelchair-accessible.

  • Know the safest places to be in your home or workplace during specific types of emergencies.

  • Identify at least two escape routes from your home and workplace in case you’re forced to evacuate. If you live or work in a building with more than one floor, make sure others know how to transfer or move you safely.

Build an emergency kit

In any emergency, you need to be prepared to take care of your own needs for at least 3 days or longer. This is in case help does not reach you right away. One way to prepare is to build an emergency supply kit. This kit should contain basic items to help you survive, such as food and water. It should also contain supplies and equipment that you need with you to help maintain your health and mobility. Also pack a small bag that contains your most essential items. Be ready to grab this bag on short notice if you have to leave your location quickly. Apart from standard items, here are some extra things you may need to include in your kit:

  • Medical supplies, such as incontinence pads and catheters for bowel and bladder care

  • Assistive devices, such as glasses, hearing aids, canes, and walkers

  • Backup chargers and batteries for powered or motorized wheelchairs

  • A backup manual wheelchair

  • Extra oxygen and portable ventilator if you require help with breathing

  • Medications and a copy of your prescriptions

  • Medical alert identification card with information about your health problems and medical needs

  • Emergency contact information and copies of important documents

Resources to help you

To learn more about how to prepare for an emergency, visit these websites:

  • American Red Cross www.redcross.org 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency Preparedness and Response www.bt.cdc.gov

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency www.fema.gov 

  • Ready Campaign www.ready.gov


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