Canadian Journal of Nursing Informatics


This article was written on 21 Mar 2018, and is filled under Volume 13 2018, Volume 13 No 1.

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Being Ready: Emergency preparedness for people with disabilities

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Our column on mobile technologies and applications (Apps) is written by Jeanette Centeno a nurse at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey who currently works in the Spinal Cord Unit. This facility is well known for its innovative rehab and nursing care.

By Jeanette Centeno, RN


Preparing for a disaster can be challenging, especially for the 57 million Americans (and 4 million or more Canadians) living with disabilities who suffer from physical and mental limitations due to illness or injury. Facing an emergent situation during a disaster, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on can pose a great threat if people are not prepared. Many rely on emergency services, but are you prepared to survive if they never arrive? Are you ready for a real life-altering emergency?

Emergency apps

No one can predict an emergency but most can prepare and be ready. A solid plan, research, and information, can change the outcome of any emergency. It can maximize your well-being and safety by creating a plan that works best or you. According to the NY Daily news (Beekman, 2013), during Hurricane Sandy, New York City discriminated against people with disabilities by failing to include them during the emergency evacuation and most public transportation and shelters were rendered useless to people with disabilities.

Creating a plan means reaching out to loved ones, trusted friends and neighbors who can be contacted during an emergent situation. Keep an updated list of people on your phone and in your emergency kit. Why create an emergency kit? You may need to depend on yourself until help arrives. A kit should include a list of current medications, first aid kit, catheters (if needed), food/water for at least 3 days, batteries, flashlight, radio, masks, gloves etc. A kit can be easily made or purchased in Army/Navy stores or from Amazon. Make sure to always include an extra pair of eyeglasses, batteries for hearing aids, and oxygen/vent supplies. Keep several kits intact and at hand. For instance have one in your car, your office, and at a trusted friends/family member’s house. Remember an emergency can happen at anytime and being prepared is essential.

It is also a good idea to create a folder on your phone especially for emergency situations. Invest in apps that can provide information and notifications during an emergency. For instance, The American Red Cross provides updates on local emergencies as well as updated evacuation routes and other critical information. The FEMA app is another great tool to help manage emergencies by providing updated information, access to shelters, and lets you save and share information with others. Another app that is essential is the Emergency Radio Free (Police Scanner), it works well in various areas by providing an extensive database of live police, fire and EMS frequencies. It is critical to also keep your ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers updated at all times.

Other Apps to consider include:

(1)  5-0 Radio Police Scanner which connects you to local enforcement, events and news.

(2) Be Ready App by Canadian Red Cross – helps you to prepare for different emergency situations and to take action when a disaster strikes.

(3) Earthquake by American Red Cross – important for those that live near fault lines  Apple  and Android

(4) iFirst Aid Lite – provides basic information for emergencies. Apple  and Android

(4) First Aid app by Red Cross – helps you maintain your first aid skills and respond to everyday emergencies

(5) Alert Ready – delivers critical and potentially life-saving alerts to Canadians through television, radio and wireless devices.

After you create your emergency network, reach out to your police or fire department and inform them of your needs and limitations. Create a dialogue where if an emergency arises, the above mentioned will check in on you. Furthermore, inquire about current evacuation routes and shelters that are wheelchair accessible and keep this information in your kit. If you receive regular treatments like chemotherapy, dialysis, etc., remember that services may be delayed until power outages have been resolved. If a situation becomes life threatening, please contact your emergency services. Furthermore, remember to be flexible with your evacuation and emergency plan: alternate evacuation routes should be explored in case roads are damaged or closed.

Last but not least, inform your personal support network of changes and provide them with all the information you researched. So, who should be in a emergency contact list? This may take some thought, not everyone is prepared or capable of helping during an emergency. Choose people, who you trust, are physically capable of helping, can handle a stressful situation, and are well aware of your limitations. If you are moving from point A to point B, always inform the members of your contact list and keep them updated of your status.

If an emergency situation becomes worse, deciding to stay or go becomes very difficult and stressful. If you are in an area that is in immediate danger and you are encouraged to evacuate by police personnel, it is best to leave.  Just remember, material things can always be replaced and staying can put you in greater danger. (For those requiring service animals, remember, not all shelters are capable of allowing animals in the premises. Leaving animals with a trusted friend or neighbor may be the only option. Please include your pets/service animals in your emergency plan.)

Furthermore, consider putting your information in an emergency data registry where local authorities personnel can assist you faster. The information provided is confidential and you control the amount of information given. Research your local state/provincial registry for further information. Always update all information including your contact sheets. (Changes in medications, diagnosis, or allergy status should be included as well.)

To summarize, evaluate any potential problems that may arise, develop a plan that works best for you, create an emergency contact list, create a current medication list, create a folder in your smartphone with Apps that include emergency notifications and information, contact local police and fire department to alert them of your needs, research evacuation routes and shelters, and practice your plan. Remember, being ready can save your life.


Beekman, D. (Nov.7, 2013). NYC discriminated against people with disabilities during Sandy, judge rules. NY Daily News.


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