Preparing For Emergencies - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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Preparing For Emergencies

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Hurricanes, floods, fires, blizzards, earthquakes, ice storms, mud slides, power outages. They can strike fear in anyone, but don’t panic. People with disabilities are often better at coping with emergencies than others; living with MS every day teaches us how to handle the unexpected. With planning, we and our families and carepartners can feel confident.

Resources and plans

Most communities have an emergency management agency or office. Look in the government section of your phone book — usually the blue pages — and contact it. This organization coordinates the traditional “first responders,” including fire and police departments, the American Red Cross and others. Explain your special needs and find out what, if any, public preparations are in place (such as hurricane or tornado shelters).

Everyone’s situation is unique, so every plan is unique. What will you need if:
  • An emergency is confined to one location (a house fire)?
  • Affects the whole region (a blizzard)?
  • Affects you uniquely because of MS (a heat wave or drought with water restrictions)?

You know best what your abilities are when you are at your worst. And remember, the first time you try out your escape plans shouldn’t be an occasion when you need them.

Establish a support system. Knowing that you can count on friends, neighbors, and colleagues will boost your morale and help you cope. Get to know your neighbors — one of the best things you can do to promote neighborhood safety. Talk over your emergency plans with them.

What will happen to your pets or service animals? Have a plan in place for your pets. The Humane Society's Disaster Preparedness for Pets or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guide can help. 

Knowing local police and firefighters is a good policy, too. But bear in mind that these workers will be deployed for specific functions in a big emergency.

Keep contact information for your key supporters in your wallet or pocketbook, and in your personal emergency kit.

 

Emergencies at home, office or school

At home, make sure family members agree on:

  1. Multiple exit routes from your home.
  2. A local meeting place outside your home.
  3. A person to contact outside your region as local phone systems can be overloaded or out of service in big emergencies. That designated person can relay information to other family or friends.

Have a drill to see whether your plan works. Review it every six months, especially if you have children or elderly people at home, your condition changes, or you’re prone to memory difficulties.

At the office, talk with your company’s designated safety director. If your company doesn’t have one, ask if the building has an on-site fire safety director. Ask about the emergency exit(s) and go over the evacuation plans.

  • If you have any mobility or cognitive symptoms, you’ll need a support network of co-workers willing to be your designated helpers.
  • If you use a wheelchair or scooter, several able-bodied people would be needed to help you evacuate.

If you work for a large company, a formal plan might be in place. You might even have had a drill. Still, you need to make sure that the plan includes provisions that you might require. For example, you might not normally need a wheelchair, but an emergency might find you at your worst.

If your employer doesn't have an inclusive plan, share the following resources with your HR department: Job Accommodation Network Employers' Guide and the U.S. Department of Labor- Office of Disability Employment Policy.

A college or university will have an office of disability services; get to know the staff and what they offer. High school students and a parent or guardian should schedule a meeting about emergency plans with the principal or academic advisor.

In case of...

Fire:

  • Install smoke detectors, test them periodically, and change the batteries once a year, perhaps on New Year’s Day or when daylight saving time begins.
  • Teach children how and when to dial 911.
  • Call your local fire department for brochures on fire prevention and protecting yourself in a fire, and ask about home safety checkups.
  • If you cannot move from your bed without help, store a fire-resistant blanket in your bedside cabinet, along with a washcloth or small towel that you can wet with your drinking water and place over your face as a shield against smoke. Use bedding and bedclothes made of fire-resistant fabrics.

Power outage:

  • Ask your utility company for its brochures on power outages.
  • Make sure you have a flashlight with fresh batteries for every family member. Consider buying battery-powered camp lanterns. If you light candles, don’t leave them burning unattended.
  • Consider getting a cell phone. Many landline phone systems are useless in a power failure.
  • If your stove doesn’t work, use a camp stove or charcoal grill outside only.

Earthquake:

  • Ask your emergency management agency for brochures on earthquake safety.
  • Stay inside unless collapse of the building seems imminent or you smell gas.
  • Stay away from tall objects that could fall over. Turn off all lights and electrical devices. Don’t light candles or use matches until gas lines have been assessed by emergency personnel.
  • Stay informed by listening to your battery-operated radio.
  • Even if you cannot get out of bed, you can protect yourself. Never install pictures, mirrors, or heavy objects over the head of your bed. During a quake, cover your head with pillows and blankets.

Flood or hurricane:

  • Find out which shelters are best prepared to handle your needs and where they are located. Remember that special-needs shelters could be limited.
  • Listen to your battery-powered radio.

Tornado:

  • Listen to your battery-operated radio, and go to the basement or tornado shelter when warned.
  • If there is no basement or you are unable to go down stairs, take shelter in a closet or a bathroom with no windows. Take pillows and blankets. Cover yourself with a mattress if you are able.

Terrorist attack:

Emergency kits

You will want an emergency kit at home, another at your school or workplace, and another in your vehicle.

At home, keep in a sturdy, easy-to-reach box:

  • A battery-operated radio with extra batteries.
  • A flashlight with extra batteries.
  • A supply of water: one gallon per person per day. (Buy in sealed, unbreakable containers. Mark the storage date and replace every six months.)
  • A supply of non-perishable packaged or canned food and a non-electric can opener.
  • A change of clothing, rain gear, and sturdy shoes.
  • Blankets or a sleeping bag.
  • A first aid kit.

Keep in a small, easy-to-reach shoulder bag, pouch or knapsack:

  • Cash, phone card or change, and a duplicate credit card.
  • An extra set of car keys.
  • An extra pair of glasses.
  • Bottled water and some non-perishable high-energy food, such as granola bars, raisins, or peanut butter.
  • Your complete list of prescription drugs, with name, strength and prescription number, plus pharmacy name, address and phone number.
  • Your list of names and phone numbers of your healthcare providers, family members, support network members; names and model numbers of any medical devices; copies of your health insurance membership cards; and phone numbers of key services, including the local emergency management agency; ambulance service; telephone and utility repair; electrician; plumber; building manager, superintendent, or landlord; and the Society.

In the car, keep a bag, pouch or knapsack containing everything in the bag/pouch/knapsack described above, plus the following:

  • Battery-powered radio and flashlight with extra batteries
  • Blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Maps

Keep booster cables, a shovel, a tire repair kit and pump, and flares in your trunk.

At your office or school, keep a bag, pouch, or knapsack containing everything in the kit described above, plus the following a battery-operated radio and flashlight.

If you have to evacuate

Grab your emergency kit, your cell phone, and your prescription medications, including any in your refrigerator. If you use a manual wheelchair, take the tool kit. For motorized scooters, take the battery-pack charger. Contact your designated communicator and put your plans into action.

National MS Society chapters all over the country traditionally organize to ease the impact of whatever nature or accident throws their way. The Society has crisis plans, just as individuals should.

After the emergency

You’re used to being in a certain environment and knowing how to manage there. A disaster can change that. You might need to ask for help putting your home back in order or filling out forms for disaster-relief agencies — things you would have done independently beforehand.

You, your carepartner or family members might experience anxiety, irritability, depression, isolation or guilt after an ordeal. Flashbacks, anger and sleep disruption are common. There can be physical changes, too, including weakness, numbness or tingling, a heavy feeling in the arms, tremors, fatigue, or an increase in allergies, colds or flu. And there might be mental changes, including poor concentration, confusion, slowed thinking, forgetfulness, and reduced ability to make decisions or to express yourself as you normally would. Many of these symptoms are the same as an exacerbation of MS. Consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of them.

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