Preparing for Emergencies With Family Members With Special Needs

As a service member, you're trained to be ready for anything. And when faced with a natural disaster or other emergency, "ready" means planning and preparing to care for everyone in your household.  Amid the chaos and stress of a disaster situation, being informed and prepared is the best way to protect your family with special needs. 


Every child is different, of course, but kids generally tend to have shorter attention spans, pickier palates and a lower tolerance for boredom than adults. Developing a disaster plan and kit with these things in mind can make a big difference in how well your kids cope during a crisis. Keeping children occupied and happy helps create a quieter, calmer environment for everyone and also allows you to think and focus on any "next steps" in an emergency situation.

Make a checklist of your child's favorite non-perishable snacks and meals, and be sure to have plenty on hand in your disaster kit. For children who may be scared or upset, a blanket or stuffed animal can help provide a sense of safety and security. You might want to invite your child to help you stuff a "fun bag" of toys (handheld video game players or decks of cards take up little room and can provide hours of entertainment), crayons, books and games. The novelty of new items, in particular, can be especially distracting and engaging for a child during a crisis. Also, don't forget classic games like "20 Questions" and "charades" that you can play as a family-no accessories or assembly required!

If you have an infant, you probably already have a good idea as to all of the special items and care they need. Depending on your baby's age, of course, you might want to add formula, baby food, diapers, bottles, powdered milk, medications, moist towelettes and diaper rash ointment to your list of disaster kit necessities. As always, keep the individual needs of your child in mind.


Since the definition of "special needs" encompasses such a huge range of medical, developmental and emotional conditions and challenges, how you plan for your adult family member with special needs will depend entirely on that person's individual circumstances. If possible, work with your family member to develop their plan. That way, you'll both know what to do and expect when an emergency arises. You might also find it helpful, during a normal day or week, to note all of your family member's requirements throughout the day - supplies he or she uses, services required (i.e., dialysis) and anything else that might help you develop an appropriate disaster plan. Separate them into a list and identify items that are critical and those that are nice to have or that the family member wants.  Use this checklist as a guide to help you remember essential items for your family member:

  • Spare pair of eyeglasses, contact lenses or a hearing aid
  • Extra medicine, insulin, catheters or other medical supplies
  • Bedding, support pillows and other items for positioning
  • Battery charger and batteries for hearing aids, motorized wheelchairs or other necessary devices
  • Copies of medical prescriptions, doctor's orders and the model and serial numbers of any necessary support devices
  • Medical insurance and Medicare/Medicaid cards, physician contact information, a list of the family member's allergies and general health history (A convenient option might be to put this information into The Special Care Organization Record for Adults with Special Needs and store it electronically on a portable thumb drive for easy transport in an evacuation.)
  • A lightweight manual chair if your family member uses a motorized wheelchair and this is an appropriate option; in case the wheelchair needs to be transported, you should know its size and weight and whether it's collapsible
  • Any necessary feeding utensils, bibs, etc.
  • Supplies and documentation for your service animal
  • A listing of local resources, including organizations that know or assist your family member or other people with comparable needs


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