By SARA ARTHURS
Disaster planning is important for everyone. But there are particular concerns for people who have disabilities.
Ron Rooker with the Hancock County chapter of the American Red Cross advocates disaster preparedness for everyone but said someone with a disability “has to go one step farther.”
He and Eric Habegger, the fire safety inspector with the Findlay Fire Department, agree that it’s important to plan ahead.
The Red Cross has three steps it recommends, Rooker said: “Get a kit, make a plan and be informed.”
The kit could be a bag or plastic tub that can be grabbed quickly, where the household stores food, water and a flashlight. Food should be nonperishable such as granola bars and, if there is canned food, a can opener should be incldued.
Rooker said the kit should also include copies of important documents such as a marriage license or birth certificate. Anyone on medication should store some of it in the kit or, at least, keep a list written down of what medications they take.
He said often people come to a Red Cross shelter after a disaster and don’t know what their medication is beyond “it’s a big white pill.” A change of clothes, a blanket and some socks might also be good to include with the kit, and pet owners should include treats for their pet, he said. Habegger recommended also including essential papers and perhaps some money.
Making a plan also means knowing what you’ll do if the power goes out. An electrical outage is inconvenient for most people but for someone who depends on medical equipment it can be a serious health issue. When Findlay was hit by the derecho of 2012, cutting power to many residents, “that became a medical event,” Rooker said.
He said it may help to communicate with the power company ahead of time.
“Make sure you’re on their radar,” he said.
For power outages, a generator may be one solution although they can be “a little pricey,” especially generators designed for a whole house. If using a portable generator be aware of safety and use it in a well-ventilated area, never inside the house or even the garage, because it can generate carbon monoxide which “can be a silent killer,” Rooker said.
Someone with a wheelchair that has a battery that must be charged should know how long it can run without being recharged, Rooker said.
He also recommends having information about medical conditions written down, in case there are situations where someone can’t communicate.
It’s also important to determine whether assistance will be needed to get out of the home if there is a need to evacuate. It may be necessary to acquire equipment that can be used to help move a person out of a house, such as lifts that allow a wheelchair to go down steps, Rooker said.
Having support people, whether family, friends or neighbors, is important, he said. Neighbors can be key since they are nearby.
“It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.
Habegger said the Fire Department often has to evacuate residents during floods. He couldn’t recall having evacuated someone with a disability but said it can come up. Rescues are done by boat and the fire department can’t put a wheelchair into a boat but “We certainly have the manpower to lift somebody out of a wheelchair and put them into a boat,” Habegger said. Then, he said, the person can make arrangements with the Red Cross at the shelter, which is where rescuers would usually take them.
Habegger said someone who is hard of hearing might need a special type of smoke detector that has flashing lights, or one that can be hung on a bed and will make the headboard vibrate.
“We just really stress smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the home,” he said. “That’s just crucial.”
Rooker said fire is the most common disaster.
Habegger said many buildings have fire-resistant stairwells with doors that are supposed to be kept closed, so if a person can get to the landing of the stairs they can then wait for firefighters to help them the rest of the way.
Disabled people who are unable to get out of a room in the event of a fire should keep the door closed and put a towel under the door. It’s also good to try to get someone’s attention by hanging something in the window, Habegger said. However, he doesn’t recommend opening the window to yell out as the air that’s let in can fan the fire and make it worse.
Flooding, also common in Findlay, can be predicted better than other types of disasters. If someone who has a disability knows that at 15 feet his or her house is surrounded by water, and the prediction is for the Blanchard River to crest at 16 feet, it’s important to put the evacuation plan into place before the waters reach the home.
Tornadoes are also a danger in this area, Rooker said.
Rooker teaches disaster preparedness in the community and at area schools and said he sees “a wide range” in terms of how prepared people are. When he presents to children he encourages them to go back and talk with their family about it.
One thing he tells them is that it’s important to have a designated point outside the home where everyone agrees to meet if they have to evacuate. This helps parents know where to find their children, saving everyone’s sanity, but also helps firefighters know that everyone is accounted for, he said. If it isn’t clear yet where one or more people are “they’ll put their life on the line,” he said.
He also encourages children to know two ways out of their bedroom.
“A few seconds of planning up front could potentially save your life,” Rooker said.
Rooker said it’s important during a disaster to be informed and keep the lines of communication with the outside world open. Cell phones, the Internet, television and radio all help a person stay informed but may not be available if the power goes out.
“A battery backup radio is highly recommended,” Rooker said.
Habegger also suggested getting a “Knox box,” a sturdy, indestructible box where a property owner can keep a spare key. The fire department has a master key to these boxes, so if a resident puts his or her house key in there the firefighters will not have to break down the door if there is a fire. Habegger said this also helps with people with medical conditions. He recently was asked to go check on a senior whose caretaker hadn’t heard from her. The senior had a Knox box and Habegger was able to enter her home and see if she was safe. The boxes can be ordered through the fire department.
Bridge Home Health and Hospice puts a lot of thought into safety and does an “in-depth” assessment for each patient when they first receive home health care, said Shelly Brough, director of clinical operations.
This includes looking at the bathroom, the stairs and the lighting.
“We also want to assess, while we’re in there, where they’re getting care,” said Nicole Debelak, director of quality/performance improvement and education.
For example a patient may spend most of their time on the second floor, in which case they need to assess how they would safely get out if there was a disaster.
“We are always looking at fire safety as well,” Brough said.
She said someone who is on oxygen should not be near a wood-burning stove or fireplace. Any patient who is on oxygen is given information about safety.
“We do have patients that continue to smoke in the homes,” Brough said.
She said education is important and it’s easy to assume a fire won’t happen.
There is also a need for backup oxygen if power is lost. Brough said Bridge ranks their patients according to who needs to be seen first if there’s a power outage.
She said elderly patients are taught about the need to have a plan and to have enough medication and food in case of snow or ice. Patients need to have a place they can go if they lose power and have no heat, she said.
During flooding, Bridge has had to evacuate patients. Debelak said all staff are told if they are going to see a patient in the flood zone that they need to make sure a plan is in place.
Bridge works closely with the hospital and area nursing homes and can transfer patients to beds there if needed.
Debelak said staff, as well as patients, have to be trained on tornado safety. If a tornado occurs while a Bridge employee is at a patient’s house, that employee should not leave the house for their own safety, she said.
Physical and occupational therapists can help people with mobility issues, Brough said.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs