Planning is an important part of any family affected by autism’s daily routine, but is even more important when it comes to being prepared before, during and after any type of natural disaster. The following tips to assist families with creating emergency preparedness and response plans have been adapted from Autism resources, recommendations from Ready.gov, FEMA, and the RedCross.
Hurricanes and other natural disasters can be difficult for people with autism. Sesame Street has put together this video and guide for families following a natural disaster:
Basic Preparedness Tips:
- Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.
- Put together a disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate.
- If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate and you decide to stay in your home, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and you are not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.
- Make a family emergency communication plan.
- Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts”.
- FEMA’s Preparedness Timeline provides a 36 hour timeline with tips on how to prepare.
Developing a Disaster Preparedness Plan:
It is a good idea for every family to have an emergency plan in place to know what you would do during a crisis or natural disaster. Autism funded the creation of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Guidebook, which can help you create a family communication plan, keep your emergency contacts organized, and share more information about your child’s special needs.
Evacuating your home – some important things to remember:
- Call the Red Cross prior to evacuating to ask which shelters accommodate people with special needs. Upon arrival to any shelter, let them know your child has autism and fully explain all of your child’s specific needs. Ask if there is a secure room or office where your family could stay if your child wanders.
- Remember children and adults with autism may be drawn to water. If you are facing a natural disaster with waters rising this quickly you will want to take extra precautions if you are not fully out of harm’s way.
- If your loved one with autism has a tendency to wander from safety, make sure you have a multifaceted safety plan in place. Click here for Autism wandering prevention resources you can use to develop a plan to keep your child safe.
- Remember to bring familiar items that will help your child adjust to their new surroundings and ease the stress of the transition with some of their comforts from home – favorite toys, DVDs and computer games.
- Make an emergency contact list – even if you have them in your phone, also write them down! Include names and numbers of everyone in your personal autism support network, as well as your medical providers, local law enforcement, emergency responders.
- Make sure your emergency information list notes any communication difficulties, including the the best way to communicate with you or your loved one with autism.
- Grab your IEP and any medical records or evaluations you may have on hand. Your IEP is a federal document and can help you settle your child in an alternate school setting more quickly if you have it on hand.
- Pack any needed Assisted Technology Devices and don’t forget the chargers! Just in case record the device name, manufacturer’s name & information, model and serial numbers, vendor (Store’s/Seller’s) name and info, date of purchase and copy of receipt if available, copy of Doctor’s or Therapist’s prescription if available and contact and funder’s (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, Insurance Co.) name, contact info, & policy numbers.
- iPads (and other medical equipment) that are used by someone with autism to communicate are covered under medical losses/disability equipment. During the intake call with FEMA, you may be asked about medical devices, and whether anyone is dependent on a computer or other equipment.
- Pack enough medicines or special dietary needs for at least three weeks. Shipments of new supplies to impacted areas may be difficult or impossible. Bring copies of prescriptions with you or be sure you have refills scheduled with a national pharmacy that can access them electronically.
- If you regularly visit doctors or specialist for treatments or interventions or if you receive regular services such as home health care, treatment or transportation, talk to your service provider about their emergency plans. Identify back-up service providers in the areas you might evacuate to. If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity to operate, talk to your health care provider about what you can do to prepare for its use during a power outage.
- If you have a service animal, be sure to include food, water, and collar with ID tag, medical records and other emergency pet supplies.
- During an emergency quick and unanticipated changes in routine and environment can cause increased anxiety and stress for people with autism. If staying in a shelter bring headphones or earplugs to help with noise. You may also consider bringing a role of duct tape to place labels, visual support or even lay out visible perimeters of your family’s assigned “space” in a communal style shelter.
Autism Resources & Information:
- The Autism Autism Response Team (both English and Spanish speaking) are available to provide information and resources during this difficult time. Call 1-888-288-4762, en Español 888-772-9050 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Autism Safety Project provides information for families and First Responders with information and guidelines for communicating with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in emergency situations.
Autism Video Series: Natural Disaster Resources in English and Spanish
Resources to Help Our Community Cope with Disaster:
- Helping a Child Living with Autism to Deal with Disaster – Autism
- Strategies for Talking and Listening to Kids about Traumatic Events – PBS
- Tips on Helping Children Feel More Secure – Fred Rogers
Government Disaster Relief Resources:
- American Red Cross – Find help in your area. Find an open shelter, search the safe and well listings, and read disaster recovery guides.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
- Find a Disaster Recovery Center Near You – A Disaster Recovery Center is a readily accessible facility or mobile office where applicants may go for information about FEMA or other disaster assistance programs, or for questions related to your case.
- Contact Your Local Emergency Information Management Office – Some local emergency management offices maintain registers of people with disabilities so you can be located and assisted quickly in a disaster. Contact your local emergency management agency to see if these services exist where you live or visit ready.gov to find links to government offices in your area.