For any child who is medically fragile or disabled, confronting a natural disaster, power outage, or some other emergency can quickly escalate into a dangerous situation. Consider your own child: Would they have a hard time moving or being moved in an emergency? Do they have difficulty communicating? Is their well-being dependent on electric power?
An impending natural or man-made disaster is not the time for families with children with special needs to start thinking about disaster planning. That’s why thorough emergency planning and preparedness are so critical to keeping your child and the rest of your family safe.
Create an emergency preparedness plan
This should not be some vague, general, nebulous idea of what to do when disaster strikes. Rather, it should be specific, detailed, concrete action items you prepare now, when things are normal. Write them down in a notebook or create a digital document and print it out. Here are some things to consider:
• Stay or go? Consider whether staying home or temporarily relocating is most practical in an emergency. If evacuating, decide where the safest places are to seek shelter that can accommodate your child and their needs. If staying at home, think about the safest place to shelter inside.
• Develop a communication plan. Plan how to keep ongoing communication with your child’s doctors, in-home clinicians, loved ones, and neighbors. Share your plans with them so they know what to expect and how to reach you. (note: If you could provide a landline phone number, that would be great. Cell phones can be useless during power outages if you don’t have a way to charge them.)
• Create an emergency care plan. Consult your child’s doctors about how to prepare for an emergency. Perhaps you can get a prescription for extra medication or back-up equipment. If your child receives in-home care, consult with your provider in advance to ensure your child will have what they need in case of an emergency.
• Notify local authorities and utilities. Emergency planning for children with special needs should include communicating with local emergency departments and utilities, particularly if your child has electric-powered equipment. Children whose medical equipment are power- and technology-dependent—like those with a ventilator to breathe—are especially vulnerable in emergencies that can disrupt electricity. You may need assistance evacuating or to be made a priority when restoring power.
• Prepare your house. Ensure you have backup power, light, and heat sources. For example: a dedicated generator for medical equipment, a whole-home generator, rechargeable marine battery, batteries, flashlights, lanterns, seasoned firewood, fuel, or space heaters.
• Make sure your car is ready. Keep your car gassed-up, tuned-up, and is stocked with emergency items like flares and jumper cables.
Build an emergency kit or ‘go bag’ to have ready
After creating an initial plan, assembling a good emergency kit is an important step in keeping your child safe and calm in a crisis. Be sure to include your child in this process if they are old enough and able to express their preferences. Let them pick things that make them feel secure, such as a special book, stuffed animal, or favorite food.
From a practical and safety aspect, consider these packing these items in your kit for your family, particularly for evacuating:
For your family emergency kit:
• At least a 3-day supply of water and non-perishable foods (don’t forget a manual can opener)
• Cooler and disposable dishware/utensils
• Batteries, flashlights, and cell phone chargers
• Personal hygiene supplies (including wet wipes, toothbrush/paste, small towels, and antibacterial foam)
• Small toys or stuffed animals, books, pillows, or other comfort items
• Copies of important documents like birth certificates, Social Security cards, and powers of attorney. (Keep these in a plastic bag or waterproof container.)
• One or two changes of clothing
• Prescription and over-the-counter medications you may need
• A credit card and cash
Special considerations for your medically fragile child:
In addition to what any family would need in an emergency kit or go bag, your special needs child likely needs a host of additional items. Here are some to think about:
• A copy of your child’s emergency plan and care notebook
• Prescribed or over-the-counter medications
• Medical supplies (eg, cannulas, catheters, feeding tubes, etc.)
• Equipment and medical devices (including communication devices, if needed)
• A small identification (ID) card or bracelet with information on key medications and emergency contacts for your child
• Special foods or formulas
• Extra batteries for small devices like hearing aids or assistive communication devices
Disaster planning gives peace of mind
While some emergencies present themselves with a warning (eg, a hurricane), others do not (eg, an earthquake), but preparing and planning can bring a sense of peace of mind in any situation. Be aware of what natural disasters are likely in your area (Do you live near the coast where flooding is likely? Or in an area that is at risk of tornadoes?) and make appropriate plans. If possible, discuss the plans with your child to instill a sense of calm and confidence.
How BAYADA can help
With more than 350 offices nationwide and over 45 years of experience, BAYADA has helped countless families prepare and safely navigate a variety of emergencies. Our clinicians and office team are a great resource for planning and a reliable support system for when disaster strikes. If your child has special needs and requires care at home or school, you can trust BAYADA to provide compassionate, exceptional care to keep them living their best lives.
Children and Youth with Special Healthcare Needs in Emergencies
This is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web page about emergency planning, response, and recovery for children with special healthcare needs.
Emergency Preparedness for Families with Special Needs
This is a CDC blog post about Julie and her son Zac, who has spina bifida. Their experience with Hurricane Katrina motivated them to always keep a month’s supply of Zac’s supplies in their emergency kit.
Caring for Children in a Disaster
This web site from CDC has information for families, schools, and healthcare providers.
“Ready.gov – Kids”
This web site from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has games and activities for children to learn all about emergency preparedness.
Children and Disasters
This web site has information and resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics.