September is emergency preparedness month making my most recent NYC Chapter HLAA meeting very timely. It was all about emergency preparedness with a special emphasis on tips for people with hearing loss. I thought the information was so useful, I wanted to share it with my readers.
The session brought me back to the horrible days after 9/11. My husband and I were separated and cell phone traffic was jammed. We did not have a plan for how to be in touch should an emergency happen. We were lucky that we were both safe and were able to independently make our way home to reunite there.
After that experience, we always tried to have a plan for how to communicate and where to go in an emergency. Now that we have children, this plan is even more critical. Interestingly, we never made contingencies in the plan for my hearing loss. From what I learned in the preparedness talk, we need to add some.
Thank you to NYC Emergency Management (NYCEM) for providing the information which I summarize here. For more details please visit their website, especially this page which contains links to many useful guides and planning tools. While the information is from a NYC agency, almost all of it would apply anywhere that you live. A special shout-out to Disability Advisor Jeffry Adelman for his hearing loss specific tips.
1. Be In The Know
Emergencies come in many forms. Some you know about in advance, like blizzards or hurricanes, but others like fires, water main breaks or terrorism can occur in a New York minute. In either case, the more information you have, the better able you are to stay safe.
In NYC, you can sign up for email or text alerts from NYCEM through Notify NYC. I signed up a few years ago and am always alerted to upcoming weather events, police activity that could disrupt transportation and other emergencies in real-time. I like that the alerts are timely, and that they come in written form, which is best for me given my hearing loss. A little research on the internet (google the name of your city and the words “emergency alert system”) is sure to turn up similar programs in your area. Here are links I found for similar services in Boston and Chicago.
2. Create an Emergency Support Network
You don’t want to tackle an emergency situation on your own. Find at least two people (friends, family members, caregivers, neighbors, coworkers) to be in your network. You may want different networks for home and work depending on how far apart they are.
The people in your network should:
- Stay in contact during an emergency.
- Have spare keys to your home.
- Know where to find your emergency supplies.
- Be familiar with your hearing loss and the equipment that you use to hear. This includes the devices themselves (hearing aids, CIs, Roger pens, FM systems, etc.) but also batteries and chargers.
- Include someone from out-of-town in case local phone lines are compromised. An out-of-town person can act as a communication relay.
3. Develop a Plan
This is the hardest part and will require some thinking. Follow this link to print the guide I received at my HLAA meeting. It guides you through the process well. Here are some highlights:
Organize Important Medical/Health Information: Collect your important medical information in one place and keep it updated and accessible. This includes things like your medications and proper dosages, your health insurance information, the phone numbers of your doctors and pharmacists. You should also include your blood type and any eye glasses and hearing devices that you use. This way the information is available if you are injured and unable to provide it yourself.
Think About Your Transportation Options: Do you utilize public transport that may be disrupted? Look at alternative lines that can get you in the general direction. Can you use a bus instead of a train and vice versa? Investigate alternate way to drive to the homes of friends and family in case certain roads are blocked.
Plan For Communication: This may be the most important step for those of us with hearing loss. How will we communicate with our network? emergency workers? medical personnel? In an emergency, your normal ways of communicating may not be available so being prepared is critical.
- Write out important phrases on index cards in advance. For example, “I wear hearing aids, please face me and speak as clearly as possible.”
- Have paper and pen available for writing down what you need.
- Utilize social media to communicate if available. In a disaster situation Facebook Safety Check lets you indicate that you are safe and check the status of others.
- Install an ICE (In Case of Emergency) app on your smart phone. There are many. One version puts your emergency contacts, blood type, and details about your hearing loss/devices on your lock screen so it can be accessed by others without a password.
4. Know How To Evacuate
If your life is in danger or you smell gas or see fire, evacuate right away. Call 911 if you need emergency assistance in evacuating. Practice evacuating several times a year if you think this will be a difficult thing for you to do physically.
Identify two meeting places: One should be close to home and the other farther away in case you are unable to return to your home. These could be homes of friends and family or pubic places like libraries or places of worship. Share these locations with your network.
Investigate Possible Emergency Shelter Locations in Your Area: Learn how to reach them on foot and by other means. If you need to go to a shelter, bring your hearing loss related gear with you as it is unlikely to be present in the format that you need.
5. Prepare Two Emergency Supply Kits
You will need one for sheltering in place and one to take with you if you need to evacuate. Both will contain similar items, but some (like water) will be in different quantities. Be sure to include:
- Copies of important documents (insurance cards, photo IDs, credit cards, etc.). Use a waterproof container to keep them safe.
- Flashlights and batteries — helpful for navigating, but also lipreading.
- A list of medications that you take with dosages.
- Contact information for your family members and other network members.
- Cash, in small bills.
- Notepad and pen.
- Whistle or bell for getting someone’s attention.
- Water and shelf-stable snacks (smaller amounts for the go-bag).
- Waterproof containers for your hearing aids/devices and plenty of batteries. If you have a backup device, include that too.
- Portable battery chargers (make sure they are charged!) that you can use for CI batteries or the like.
- Any other equipment you need to communicate.
Preparation is the best defense in any emergency. I encourage you all to familiarize yourself with the services available in your local area and begin making your plans today. Be sure to take your hearing loss into account as you make these plans. Hopefully, you will never need to use them.
Readers, do you have an emergency plan that takes your hearing loss into account?