Disaster Preparedness for Families With Special Needs, Children or Pets

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-kids, family members with special needs, and pets. We all have the same most basic needs-food, water, shelter. But ensuring that your disaster kit has games for your kids, an assistive device for a person with special needs, or a litter box for the family cat can make everyone a lot happier and more comfortable in a crisis.

Taking care of the kids

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 kids 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 own child in mind.

Family members with special needs

Since the definition of "special needs" encompasses such a huge range of medical, developmental, and emotional conditions and challenges, how you plan for your family member with special needs will depend entirely on that person's individual circumstances. If possible, work with the person with special needs to develop your 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 special needs 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. Use this checklist as a guide to help you remember essential items for your family member with special needs:

  • a 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 style and serial numbers of any necessary support devices
  • medical insurance and Medicare/Medicaid cards, physician contact information, and a list of the family member's allergies and general health history (a convenient option might be to put this information into a portable thumb drive for easy transport in an evacuation)
  • a lightweight manual chair if your family member uses a motorized wheelchair; 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


For many military families, a pet is more than "just a dog" or "just a cat"-it's part of the family. Not only does your pet deserve your protection and care, a pet can also help calm and comfort its human companions in a crisis. So don't leave Fido or Fluffy out of your disaster plan! These tips will help ensure that your pets are well provided for whether you have to evacuate or just hunker down at home:

  • Always bring pets inside during a storm, especially if severe weather is expected.
  • Because many emergency shelters will not admit pets (unless they are service animals), keep a list of pet-friendly hotels and motels, kennels, or boarding facilities in your area along with their contact information.
  • Your pet's "go bag" should include pet food, bottled water, medications, veterinary records, a litter box, manual can opener, and food dishes.
  • Depending on the presence of floods, downed power lines, or other hazards, you may need to keep your pet indoors for an indefinite period; be sure to have some newspapers on hand for sanitary reasons.
  • Keep your pet carrier in an easily accessible place so you can leave quickly with your pet safely contained.
  • Always make sure your pet is wearing current identification tags.
  • Keep dogs and cats separated; even if they normally get along well, added stress can provoke unpredictable behavior.

The Ready.gov brochure will tell you more about how to protect and care for your pet before, during, and after a disaster.

Amid the chaos and stress of a disaster situation, being informed and prepared is the best way to protect your kids, family members with special needs, and pets - along with everyone else in your household.


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