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, as well as our families and carepartners, can feel confident.
Direct Emergency Assistance
When disaster strikes, here are some resources to help:
FEMA.gov – Federal resources and critical information on large-scale emergencies. Find help related to emergency phone numbers, key safety tips, applying for assistance and other resources.
Red Cross Disaster Relief & Recovery – Find a shelter, register yourself as safe, look for loved ones, and connect to resources for financial and emotional recovery.
Salvation Army – Salvation Army Disaster Relief Services provide social services, emotional and spiritual care, and (by area) may include meals from mobile feeding units, hygiene kits and other support.
Medicare.gov – Information on getting care, drugs, or medical supplies during an emergency or disaster for those insured by Medicare.
DisasterAssistance.gov – Comprehensive information related to physical needs during a disaster, as well as applications for disaster assistance.
Disaster Distress Helpline – For counseling and emotional support during a disaster. The helpline at 800-985-5990 is open 24x7, offers bilingual support, and accepts calls and texts.
2-1-1 Information & Referral – Online search for free and confidential information about charities and community organizations in your area; you can also dial 2-1-1 from your phone (where available).
Most communities have an emergency management agency or office. Look in the government section of your phone book—usually the blue pages—and contact them. 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. 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:
- Multiple exit routes from your home.
- A local meeting place outside your home.
- 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:
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.
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
- First aid kit
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 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 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 traditionally organize to ease the impact of whatever nature or accident throws their way. The Society has crisis plans, just as individuals should.
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.
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, as well as resources after the initial emergency has passed, such as for temporary living assistance, medical equipment, medications, emotional support, or other challenges. To connect with an MS Navigator, call 1-800-344-4867 or email email@example.com.