Evacuation Issues for the Disabled
Under normal circumstances, someone with moderate to severe disabilities can function and even live alone with periodic outside assistance. But what happens in the event of an emergency?
People who functioned quite well on a day-to-day basis from a wheelchair suddenly found themselves challenged and even trapped in such disasters as Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Center on 9/11. Emergency responders prioritized finding and helping the disabled. In many instances they were successful, but in many they were not.
What happens if there was a fire or other emergency in your neighborhood? How would emergency responders know that your mother-in-law is alone in the house in her wheelchair and unable to get out on her own?
In many communities, the fire and police departments encourage residents to let them know where people who would need extra assistance in an emergency live. Some may use a small decal or other indicator to place in a front window of the house or other designated area and another in the window of the bedroom of the disabled person. The decals are subtle and depict several circumstances such as babies, disabled, hard of hearing, and other situations, so no one would know just by looking at it there is someone in a wheelchair living there.
In the event of an emergency situation, don't assume your loved ones will hear an evacuation notice or that they have gotten out of their home. Pay attention to news broadcasts and contact emergency workers to check on a relative if there has been an evacuation in their neighborhood.
Sometimes the fire department makes automated phone calls along with using a bullhorn to announce an evacuation order. They don't always knock on all the doors, or even wait for a response — they need to move through a neighborhood quickly. It may be late or even in the middle of the night that an evacuation takes place. Would your mother hear or pay attention to a loudspeaker? Would she decipher an automated phone call?
If emergency workers are aware of those who may need extra assistance in an evacuation, they will provide safe assistance out. Usually an evacuation order is issued long before there is imminent danger, but don't wait for hours to find out that your mother and her dog are still sitting in the house (oblivious to the evacuation) and can't get out on their own, and the fire department isn't going to let you in to get them.