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Healthy Outlook

Emergency Preparedness for People with Access and Functional Needs

By Kim Cox, MPH

Monday, September 22, 2014

Here in the Bay Area, we live in earthquake country—something we were reminded of by the recent 6.0 earthquake near Napa. While there is nothing we can do to prevent an earthquake from happening, there is plenty we can do to be prepared when the next Big One hits.

Planning for disasters is important for everyone, but it's particularly critical for those with disabilities and other access and functional needs, such as people with mobility or visual impairments, the elderly, home-bound residents and the medically-dependent. An extended disruption in basic services like electricity may be an inconvenience for most, but it can be a matter of life or death for a home-bound person who relies on supplied oxygen or a ventilator to survive.

The following tips can help you start thinking about how to get ready for an emergency. Some of these tips apply to anyone reading this column, but most are designed to aid people with access and functional needs.

Prepare an emergency kit: Plan to have enough supplies to last for at least three days, including food and water for you and your family, pets or service animals. You should also have backup eyeglasses and a three- to seven-day supply of prescription medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to best set aside, preserve and label these medicines.

Develop a personal support network: Talk to family, friends, caretakers and neighbors who can help you when disaster strikes. People in your support network should know your needs and be able to check on you following a major earthquake or other event.

Coordinate with medical and service providers: Ask your health and other service providers about their emergency plans. If you use medical equipment that requires electricity, talk to your health care or equipment provider about what to do in case of a power outage.

Make a list: Maintain a list of medications, allergies, special equipment, names and numbers of doctors, pharmacists and family members with you at all times. You can put this information in "vial of life" forms, which should be available through your local police or fire departments.

Create a safe space: Secure tall furniture to prevent it from falling on you, and put heavy items on low shelves. Also make sure that essential medical equipment like oxygen tanks are secured so they don't get damaged.

Prepare adaptive equipment and supplies: Keep extra emergency supplies at your bedside and by your wheelchair. Have walking aids near you at all times and place extra walking aids in your home. If you use any hearing or communication devices, store extra batteries and supplies. Keep pen and paper in your kits for receiving and communicating information. Label all your adaptive equipment with your current contact information.

Service Animals: Be prepared to use alternate equipment if your animal cannot provide its normal services. Service animals are allowed in shelters, pets are not. Be prepared to explain what services your animal performs for you.

Advocate for yourself! : Make sure you are included in practice drills at work and in your community. Contact your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) or emergency management agency to see how to get involved in preparedness efforts in your community.

For more information and resources about emergency preparedness, visit or

Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at For more health information, go to
About the Author
Kim Cox is the Emergency Services Manager for Contra Costa Health Services.