- Natural disaster preparedness for kids
- Emergency preparedness for kids with special needs
- How to support kids in the aftermath of a natural disaster
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Julie thought she was ready. She always had an emergency kit prepared because her son Zac needs medical supplies and equipment to keep him happy and healthy. Zac has spina bifida, a major congenital disability of the spine; hydrocephalus, which means he has extra fluid in and around the brain; and a number of food and drug allergies.
He has sensitivities to changes in temperature and barometric pressure. Therefore, she always made sure they had a week’s worth of supplies and medicine ready when it was time to evacuate. It was a very delicate medical balance; when Zac has an issue, the dominos tend to fall quickly.
As communities around the Gulf braced for Katrina, Julie’s family left New Orleans for Baton Rouge with their one week reserve of Zac’s medical supplies, including catheters, feeding tubes, and special medications. But like most families facing the devastation of this hurricane, they ended up being gone for much longer. It was a very challenging time for so many people, but especially for families of children with special health care needs, like Zac, who need a lot of support.
Planning is paramount
All children have unique needs during an emergency. Preparedness planning for children with special healthcare needs is often more complicated because they may have:
- A hard time moving from one place to another
- Urgent or constant medical needs
- Difficulty communicating
- Trouble with transitioning to different situations
A disaster can present some or all these difficulties at once.
Having a plan for how to stay healthy, informed, connected, and calm is important. If there is a child with special healthcare needs in your family, your emergency action plan should include an emergency care plan.
An emergency care plan is important paperwork that you and your child’s doctor can write together. It’s used to communicate information about your child to caregivers. During an emergency, this could include teachers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.
Julie’s emergency plan
Julie always keeps a one month supply of Zac’s supplies in their emergency kit as it’s critical for them. Her insurance pays for this stockpile of emergency supplies. She also keeps a document of Zac’s daily needs and medical history in print and electronic format.
This vital document includes:
- Daily plan of care
- How to use his medical equipment
- Recipe for formula
- Catheterization schedule
- Allergy information: food and medication allergies, type of reaction, and what to do if he has a reaction
- Diagnoses by body system
- List of his doctors with contact information
- Equipment providers
- Medications and supplies including stock numbers and basic descriptions of products for comparable substitutions
- Allergy information
- Insurance information
- Biographical sketch including his likes/dislikes; hobbies/interests; and triggers-things that will disturb him.
Julie urges families with children who have special needs to know what emergencies are likely in their area. For Julie’s family, they know the areas that flood and prepare for hurricanes and tornados. Also, they live in an area that is home to many chemical factories and a nuclear plant, so they prepare for plant explosions, nuclear reactor accidents, and fires.
Preparing and planning can give you peace of mind. So get a kit. Make a plan. Be informed. It applies to everyone, especially to those who care for children with special needs.
Strive for peace of mind
Preparing for an emergency can be stressful for all families, especially those with children with special healthcare needs. Having—and practicing—an emergency action plan can help families respond confidently to the real thing.
Communication is key. It’s important for all families to talk to their children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and consider the child’s age and type of disability.
After a disaster, you need to know how to help children cope with their different and strong emotions. Some children react right away; others may show signs of difficulty much later. Coping with a disaster can be particularly difficult for children with disabilities.
This article is based on the following articles: “Emergency preparedness for families with special needs,” “Emergency preparedness tips for parents of children with special healthcare needs.”