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Preparing for special needs in an emergency


Last updated 9/11/2014 at Noon

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is supporting National Preparedness Month efforts, and an AgriLife Extension expert is offering tips for Texans to help them get ready for and recover from a disaster or emergency.

“FEMA has designated September as National Preparedness Month and this year’s theme is ‘Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare,’” said Joyce Cavanagh, a family development and resource management specialist in College Station.

Cavanagh said she hopes Texans will take this opportunity to take practical action toward protecting themselves. In particular, she noted the importance of preparing a disaster plan that includes specific needs, such as caring for children, disabled individuals, older adults and pets.

The Texas Extension Disaster Education Network, or Texas EDEN, has information and materials on specific disasters, plus tips on disaster preparation and recovery, she said.

Cavanagh said one of the best things Texans can do is map out a family evacuation plan ahead of time and practice it.

“It’s important to create a plan that fits your family’s needs,” she said. “All family members need to know how to respond to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area. You will need to consider escape routes, family communication, utility shut-off and safety, insurance and vital records. You will also want to consider any special needs that might occur, especially if it becomes necessary for you to relocate due to a disaster or emergency.”

Cavanagh said such a plan should include establishing escape routes from a house or apartment, drawing up a floor plan showing the escape routes, making sure that all family members understand how to escape and are included in the practice session.

“Be sure to select a site outside the home for everyone to meet after they’ve left the house,” she said. “Draw a map that shows all the streets and their names and be sure to address how family will contact one another if separated. Prepare a contact card for each family member and have everyone keep a copy of it in a wallet, purse or backpack for easy reference.”

She said if a person is injured because of an accident or disaster, he or she may be unable to speak with emergency medical personnel. As a result, emergency responders often turn to a victim’s cell phone for clues to identity and emergency contacts.

“Because disabled, elderly, unhealthy or non-English-speaking people have special needs, you must take additional steps to protect them,” Cavanagh said.

She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has identified some ways by which people can address special needs during a disaster or emergency, including:

– Making arrangements to text or email warnings to any hearing-impaired individuals in your family or neighborhood.

– Arranging for any special assistance needed to get mobility impaired individuals into vehicles and shelters.

– Offering to help single working parents with planning and practice for a disaster or emergency.

– Helping people who don’t speak English contact community groups that may assist in keeping them informed.

– Identifying family members and neighbors without vehicles and making arrangements to transport them.

– Noting any special dietary or medical needs for individuals and making sure needed food and medicine are included in an emergency kit.

“People with medical conditions should also consult with their physician or pharmacist about how and for how long they might store extra medication in the event of an emergency,” Cavanagh added.

She noted that special assistance may be available in some areas and recommended calling 211. If 211 is not available in your area, call the local emergency management office or fire department to ask about any special assistance programs.

Cavanagh added that family members should know how to administer first aid and CPR, as well as know how to use a fire extinguisher. For training courses, go to

“If you must evacuate your home, also remember emergency shelters may not accept pets. If they do have pet shelter facilities available, you generally must supply a crate and show vaccination history; include this information in your emergency supply kit.” she said. “And most animal shelters accommodate lost and stray pet disaster victims first, so they probably won’t be able to take your pets if the emergency shelter cannot accommodate them.”

She said a disaster plan should include how to care for pets, including identifying hotels or motels that accept pets or would waive a “no pets” policy in an emergency, listing phone numbers and addresses of veterinarian offices and pet-boarding facilities, coordinating with friends outside the area to care for the pets and preparing an emergency pet supply kit.

Additional materials are available at the AgriLife Bookstore website,, and information on current topics can be found by connecting with Texas EDEN on Facebook at Twitter at or Pinterest at

Cavanagh said more information on preparedness also may be found by going to FEMA’s website or its Spanish-language counterpart at


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