March 26, 2003
Disabled have special needs in event of disaster, emergency task force says
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—At a time when all Americans are being urged to prepare for potential terrorist attacks, Methodist Rehabilitation Center is advising people with disabilities to take extra precautions.
“In a disaster, people with disabilities are unique and have special needs,” said Dennis Cagle, facility manager at Methodist Rehab and a member of its Emergency Management Task Force. “Some are in electric wheelchairs and may be in a position where they can’t operate their chair and need someone else to help.”
In fact, Cagle says, one of the most important things people with disabilities can do is have a support network of reliable people who can help in the case of an emergency.
“There’s no way to plan for everything, but there are a lot of simple, common-sense things you can do to prepare yourself,” he added.
Frank Gambrell, of Port Gibson, has been in a wheelchair for 17 years with Transverse Myelitis. He says his strategy is to stock up on medical supplies, prescription drugs and bottled water.
“It’s important to have them even if there isn’t a disaster,” he said. “You never know what could happen. We (people with disabilities) can’t always get out anytime to get things.”
While Methodist Rehab has always had an Emergency Management Task Force, it expanded both in size and in scope after the events of September 11, said Sabrina Sherrill, program director of rehab surgery at the hospital.
“It made us realize how important that group was in a hospital setting,” said Sherrill who joined the task force shortly after September 11.
“Bioterrorism started becoming a more real and present danger and we began revising the entire task force to design proactive solutions to these problems. And it’s especially important when considering the needs of the disabled population.”
They realized they needed a better plan then they had, Cagle said. “In the past two years, we’ve gotten very serious and very good at being prepared for different types of disasters. We routinely attend seminars and national disaster management meetings to learn more and to get even better at it,” he said.
The task force recently devised this list of precautions for people with disabilities:
- Tell friends where you keep your emergency supplies
- Give one friend the key to your house or apartment so they can get supplies
- Wear a medical alert tag or bracelet to help identify your disability or condition
- If you are dependent or on dialysis or other life-sustaining treatment, know the location and availability of more than one health care facility
- Show others how to operate your wheelchair
- Know the size and weight of your wheelchair and whether or not it is collapsible in case it needs to be transported
- Keep extra supplies such as eyeglasses, wheelchair batteries, insurance and Medicare cards, prescription medicines and a list of doctors and relatives who should be notified if you’re injured.
- Gambrell said he’s taken the advice to heart. “I’ve got packages of everything I need,” he added. “It’s just not smart to not be prepared.”