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Emergencies and Disasters

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Hurricanes, floods, fires, blizzards, earthquakes, ice storms, mudslides, heat waves, power outages: They can cause concern in anyone, but there is no need to panic. Living with MS every day teaches us how to handle the unexpected. With planning, you can feel confident in facing emergencies.

Direct emergency assistance
 

When disaster strikes, turn to these resources for physical assistance and emotional support:

  • American Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery provides shelter, assistance searching for loved ones and recovery resources during and after a disaster.
  • The government-run Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP) offers information, support and services, and will connect you to additional help via FEMA.
  • The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategy’s Disability and Disaster Hotline provides people with disabilities, their families and their allies assistance with immediate and urgent disaster-related needs.
  • Healthcare Ready leverages relationships with government, nonprofit and medical supply chains to build the resiliency of communities before, during and after disasters. Its Rx Open service identifies pharmacies operating after a disaster. 
  • Salvation Army Disaster Relief Services provides social services, administers emotional and spiritual care and, in some areas, distributes meals, hygiene kits and supplies.
  • Find state-specific disaster hotlines — and free legal help and assistance filing for disaster benefits — through the list of disaster legal hotlines compiled by the American Bar Association.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) extends counseling and emotional support around the clock every day, in English and Spanish, via its Disaster Distress Helpline.
  • For those insured by Medicare, this pamphlet from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services includes information on obtaining care, medications, durable medical equipment and supplies during a disaster.
  • 2-1-1 Information and Referral will help you find charities and community organizations in your area who can help you pay bills, find food and get in touch with a local 2-1-1 service.

Plan ahead

Make a plan with the members of your household, so that you’ll be ready should disaster ever strike. The steps below will guide you through the process.

  1. Review your overall situation. Every emergency and disaster plan is unique, just as everyone’s life is unique. As you plan, consider:
  • The hazards and disasters that could affect your area
  • The distinct needs of your household
  • Your own abilities — as they are when you are most vulnerable
  1. Plan for a range of emergencies. You’ll want to think about disasters that:
  • Affect you uniquely, such as a heat wave or drought with water restrictions
  • Affect only your home, such as a fire
  • Affect the whole region, such as a blizzard

For information specific to your region, consult your emergency management agency or office. Refer to the advice below regarding different types of disasters.

  1. Make sure household members agree on:
  • Multiple exit routes from your home
  • A meeting place outside your home
  • A person to contact outside your region who can relay information to other family members and friends in case local phone systems are overloaded or out of service
  1. Create a preparedness kit, using the list below. The government website Ready can connect you with free preparedness materials.

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

  3. Have a drill to see whether your plan works. Review it every 6 months, especially if your household includes children or elderly people, your condition changes or you're prone to memory difficulties.

For more on what you can do to prepare, read “Weathering the Storm” in Momentum Magazine and visit Ready.gov.

Establish a support system

 

Knowing that you can count on friends, neighbors and colleagues will boost your morale and help you cope during challenging times. Get to know your neighbors. It’s one of the best things you can do to promote neighborhood safety. Talk over your emergency plans with them.

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

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

Prepare at work or school

 

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 safety director. Ask about emergency exits 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 covers your requirements. For example, you might not normally need a wheelchair, but an emergency might find you at your most vulnerable.

If your employer doesn't have an inclusive plan, share the following resources with your Human Resources department:

At school

At college or university, get to know the staff of the disability services office 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.

Review disaster-specific advice

 

Fire

  • Install smoke detectors. Test them periodically and change the batteries once a year, perhaps on New Year's Day or when Daylight Savings Time begins.
  • Call your local fire department for brochures on fire prevention and protecting yourself in a fire, and ask about home safety checkups.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home.
  • Know of at least 2 exits from every room in your house.
  • Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 9-1-1 should a fire start at night. Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1.
  • If your mobility is impaired, try to live on the ground floor. If you live in a multi-story home, arrange to sleep on the ground floor.
  • If you cannot move from your bed without help, consider installing an outdoor smoke alarm with a strobe light to alert neighbors or an emergency call system. You might also store a fire blanket in your bedside cabinet.

Power outage

  • Ask your utility company for any information on power outages, including planned or rolling outages. Visit your utility company’s website to see if you can sign up for outage updates by text, email or phone.
  • Visit Ready.gov’s “How to Protect Yourself During a Power Outage.”
  • 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.
  • If your stove doesn't work, use a camp stove or charcoal grill outside only.

Earthquake

  • Ask your local emergency management agency for information on earthquake safety.
  • Stay inside unless the building seems like it might collapse 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 may be limited.
  • Listen to your battery-powered radio.

Tornado

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

Assemble emergency kits

 

The lists below will guide you in assembling emergency kits at home, at work and in your car. Keep one emergency kit at each of those places.

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
  • A dust mask
  • A whistle, to signal for help
Keep in a small, easy-to-reach shoulder bag, pouch or knapsack:
  • Cash, a duplicate credit card, a fully charged, disposable cell phone and a back-up cell phone charger
  • 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
  • A first-aid kit
  • A complete list of the prescription drugs you take, with name, strength and prescription number, plus pharmacy name, address and phone number
  • A list of your healthcare providers, family members and support network members with phone numbers; 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 kit described above, plus the following:

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

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

At work, keep a bag, pouch or knapsack with:

  • A battery-operated radio with extra batteries
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • Enough food and water to shelter in place for at least 24 hours
  • A complete list of the prescription drugs you take, with name, strength and prescription number, plus pharmacy name, address and phone number
  • Contact information for family members and support network
  • Comfortable walking shoes

If you have to evacuate...

 

Grab the box and bag with your emergency kits, cell phone and prescription medications, including any in your refrigerator. If you use a manual wheelchair, take a 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 usually organize to ease the impact of local emergencies. 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. You might experience physical changes, too, including weakness, numbness or tingling, a heavy feeling in the arms, tremors, fatigue or an increase in allergies, colds or flu. There might also 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. If you experience any of them, consult your healthcare provider.

How the Society can help

The National MS Society is here to support people affected by MS through crises. If you or a loved one have been impacted by an emergency or disaster, our MS Navigators are standing ready to connect you to emergency shelters and other critical needs now. They may also offer resources after the initial emergency has passed, such as  referrals for temporary living assistance, temporary medical equipment, access to medications, emotional support or for other challenges. To connect with an MS Navigator:

  • Call 1-800-344-4867 during standard business hours
  • Complete the contact form
  • Chat

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